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BREAKING: UNM Pit renovations legal, jury finds

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 130305_pit_cropA Santa Fe jury on Tuesday ruled in favor of Flintco West LLC, the company accused of skimming taxpayers in the $60 million renovations of UNM’s The Pit.

The 10-person jury decided Flintco did not violate the Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, which allows a person to sue on behalf of taxpayers when public funds are involved.

The trial began last week and was heard before 1st Judicial District Court Judge Sarah Singleton.

Jury deliberations lasted a little over three hours on Tuesday, the same day attorneys presented closing arguments. Plaintiffs attorneys were seeking about $8.8 million total in damages.

Flintco said in a statement that it was thrilled by the ruling and stood by its work at the Pit.

Flintco was the contractor chosen to head the remodeling at the Pit from 2009 to 2010.

Among the accusations in the state’s first “Fraud Against Taxpayers” case that made it to trial are that former UNM president David Schmidly had a prior relationship with Flintco and therefore had influence over its selection; that Flintco’s hiring of Brian Schmidly, David Schmidly’s son, was a ploy to have more control over the project; and that the company increased the initial cost of their work through questionable change orders.

The jury did not concur.

“While it is unfortunate we all had to endure this long and costly process, we are thrilled by the verdict and view this outcome as a clear vindication of our position since this lawsuit began. The Pit was a wonderful project, is a gem for the university and we stand by our work. For more than 76 years, Flintco is proud to have been part of New Mexico’s construction industry and we look forward to many more decades of success.”

Attorney Todd Wertheim, who represented the plaintiffs, a group of trade unions, said the jury’s findings were disappointing but that he respected that jury’s findings.

“It’s never easy to take on a corporation. It takes a lot of courage,” Wertheim said. “I hope it sends a message to Flintco that they have to treat the workers and people of New Mexico fairly.”

 

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