Shore Could Lose FEMA Money Thanks to Christie’s Suspect Deal-Making

After Hurricane Sandy struck, Chris Christie awarded a bulk of the debris cleanup to a Florida company called AshBritt, without letting other contractors bid on the job. What’s more, it “piggy-backed” off a 2008 contract the firm used in Connecticut, lifting those terms word for word. Given AshBritt’s history of inflated contracts, it seemed odd for New Jersey to be hiring an out-of-state company to do its dirty work. And it seemed doubly suspicious when Christie’s friend and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who recommended the firm to Christie, began working in an official capacity to connect AshBritt with individual towns and cities.

A number of towns that decided against using AshBritt paid a fraction of the cost of those that did, and Christie ignored a request from another major debris removal company that said it was willing to do the work at one-third of AshBritt’s rates.

The Star-Ledger has now learned that because of the “piggy-backing” contract, which state officials say they signed for expediency’s sake, FEMA sent a letter to Senator Frank Lautenberg on February 21st, warning that it could withhold federal disaster relief funds to certain areas as punishment. (Secretive piggy-backed contracts suggest private companies, not states, are calling the shots.)

FEMA strongly discourages the use of “piggybacked” contracts and subjects them to greater scrutiny, Lautenberg told Christie. As a result, he wrote, FEMA will determine whether AshBritt’s rates are reasonable and may penalize towns by cutting reimbursement if it finds the costs are out of step with the marketplace.

Since the bid was awarded, Christie has allowed other firms to compete for work, but most of the clean-up jobs have already been finished. AshBritt is slated to receive about $150 million for the work it did in 53 towns. [Star-Ledger]