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The owner of one of Utah's largest construction companies engaged in an improper relationship with a state Department of Transportation manager in yet another blow to the agency that has been under scrutiny for its contracting, huge settlement payments and political surprises.
Guy Wadsworth, founder and president of Wadsworth Brothers Construction, apologized for the embarrassment his extramarital relationship with the UDOT employee caused to his family and his business partners, but denied it played any role in UDOT's decision to award Provo River Constructors, a group of companies that included Wadsworth's, a $1.1 billion contract to rebuild Interstate 15 in Utah County.
"Despite my lapse of personal judgment, I can say emphatically that this relationship had absolutely no bearing on any bid decisions at any time," said Wadsworth in a statement. "In fact, the UDOT employee was not involved in the I-15 CORE selection process or any other bid selection procurement process in any manner. Period."
The UDOT employee in question was demoted and took a pay cut for violating the department's ethics policy after the agency uncovered evidence of the relationship in December. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert was first briefed on the situation last week, according to the department.
As the revelation led to new questions about UDOT's management, Herbert asked the Utah State Auditor's Office on Wednesday to conduct a thorough review of the bid process for the I-15 contract.
Herbert also imposed new requirements for bid protests after UDOT paid $13 million without Herbert's knowledge to settle a protest by the losing I-15 bidder.
UDOT was exempt from state law that would have required the governor and Legislature to be notified of such a settlement. Until the Legislature decides whether to change the law, Herbert must review any settlement of more than $100,000.
Herbert said in a letter to UDOT Director John Njord that he remains convinced the settlement may have been justified and the bid process aboveboard, but "a cloud of uncertainty has been raised concerning some UDOT practices. Public trust, as well as my confidence in your department, must be restored."
Herbert's Democratic gubernatorial challenger, Peter Corroon whose campaign has hammered the governor on questions of whether well-heeled donors such as Wadsworth got special treatment from the Herbert administration dismissed Herbert's request for an audit as a diversion. He said the governor was trying to set up Njord and UDOT as the "fall guys" for systemic problems that start at the top.
"Gary Herbert owes it to Utahns to be open and honest about his office's own transactions, rather than diverting attention onto others," Corroon said. "I think Utah's attorney general should conduct a full investigation of the Governor's Office."
Herbert said in an interview that he believes politics are coloring perceptions.
"The challenge is, we are having to do this in a political environment, where we've got people out there who don't care about the truth," Herbert said. "If you are going to try to connect the dots, you need to connect all the dots, you can't just take two and draw conclusions. ... If you connect all the dots, you will come to the conclusion that all of the processes were pure."
Njord said he looks forward to the audit and welcomes anyone to review the process.
Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said the governor will wait for the results of the audit before taking any other action. Asked if the audit could drag past the Nov. 2 election, she said the timing would be up to Auditor Auston Johnson, who is an elected official.
The revelation of the relationship between the UDOT manager and Wadsworth is the latest in a series of missteps for the agency.
In late November and early December, Wadsworth and the UDOT employee took a trip to China with four other UDOT bridge experts for a bridge-design demonstration. Their trip was paid for by Dafang, a Chinese company that provides the mechanism that moves prefabricated bridges into place.
While they were on the trip, word leaked out that UDOT had chosen the firm of Flatiron/Skanska/Zachry as the winner of the $1.1 billion I-15 project, a violation of UDOT secrecy agreements that prompted an investigation, beginning with the five people on the trip.
"Instead of finding anything about I-15, we found evidence they were having an inappropriate relationship," said UDOT spokesman Niles Easton.
The source of the leak was never identified, and the information turned out to be incorrect. A senior management team reversed the technical teams' recommendation, and the contract went to Wadsworth.
Easton said the UDOT employee played no role in evaluating the I-15 bids and there was no indication that the relationship had any effect on any public business, but it was a violation of UDOT's conflict-of-interest policies, and as a result, she was demoted and her pay was cut.
"As soon as we discovered it, we were on it immediately," Njord said. "Frankly, had we found something more than just an inappropriate relationship, we would have gone further much further."
The Tribune has learned that the UDOT employee is Rukhsana Lindsey, who had been director of research and bridge operations and was the highest-compensated female employee in the department in the 2009 budget year, with salary and benefits topping $160,000. Lindsey hung up the phone when she was contacted by The Tribune and referred an e-mail question to Easton.
Lindsey's husband filed for divorce in March, court records indicate. The case is pending.
Wadsworth said he has been separated from his wife for 15 months while they try "to work through our personal issues." In July 2009, Wadsworth's wife petitioned for divorce and demanded she keep the couple's home, convertible Bentley and Cadillac Escalade. She withdrew the filing in September 2009.
"I apologize to my family, to my business partners at Provo River Constructors and to UDOT for any embarrassment this may cause them," Wadsworth said. "I most sincerely apologize to the devoted employees at Wadsworth Brothers Construction for overshadowing, in any way, more than 30 years of integrity, exceptional work and vast amounts of service and contribution to the Utah community that we love."Members of the consortium have donated $87,500 to Gov. Gary Herbert's election campaign. Wadsworth gave $50,000 and had two meetings with the governor at the end of 2009.
In a November 2009 e-mail, Mike Deaver, a fundraiser for the Herbert campaign, arranged a meeting between Wadsworth and the governor in which Deaver said that Wadsworth wanted to discuss "transportation construction issues within the state."
"The governor should remember that Guy was one of the $50,000 donors to the gala and is a first-time political donor," Deaver said.
That e-mail wasn't released to The Tribune as part of an earlier open-records request but was given to other news outlets.
The Governor's Office said the employee who received the e-mail was on medical leave at the time of the earlier request.
Matt Canham contributed to this report.
Statement from Guy Wadsworth, president of Wadsworth Brothers Construction
Given the excessive media and public speculation concerning the transparency and fairness of UDOT's I-15 CORE project bidding process, I feel the responsibility to step forward and personally address recent rumors. I acknowledge that I had a personal relationship with a UDOT employee that did not show professional judgment. For the past 15 months I have been separated from my wife and we are doing our best to work through our personal issues. This relationship, as reported in the news, has been fully investigated by UDOT with the conclusion being that there was no connection between this situation and the I-15 CORE Selection Process or any other bids at any phase. Despite my lapse of personal judgment, I can say emphatically that this relationship had absolutely no bearing on any bid decisions at any time. In fact, the UDOT employee was not involved in the I-15 CORE selection process or any other bid selection procurement process in any manner. Period. I apologize to my family, to my business partners at Provo River Constructors, and to UDOT for any embarrassment this may cause them. I most sincerely apologize to the devoted employees at Wadsworth Brothers Construction for overshadowing, in any way, more than thirty years of integrity, exceptional work, and vast amounts of service and contribution to the Utah community that we love. I can promise that Wadsworth Brothers Construction will continue building our communities' roads and bridges with the same hard work and quality workmanship that have made this company a leading design build contractor in the state of Utah. Given the personal nature of this situation, I do not intend to offer any further comments. I'm hopeful that my personal and family privacy will be respected at this time.