FEMA contractor gave false testimony on Baton Rouge man killed in trailer, officials say

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A FEMA contractor is accused of offering false testimony to a Congressional committee regarding his knowledge of faulty thermostats his company installed in FEMA trailers – thermostats that led to the death of an 84-year-old blind veteran last year, according to a document obtained by the 9News Investigators on Thursday.

Sixteen Democrat members of the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday signed a nine-page letter to David Boone, president of Chicago Bridge & Iron Company Federal Services, a FEMA contracting company better known as CB&I. The company had a contract to provide and maintain FEMA trailers following the August 2016 floods in Baton Rouge.

The committee issued the letter as part of its investigation into the death of Baton Rouge resident, Everett Wilson, a blind U.S. Air Force veteran who was found unresponsive in bed on October 25, 2016, in his FEMA trailer at 4250 Blount Rd.

Authorities entered the trailer and found the thermostat registering about 50 degrees, even though the actual temperature was in the triple digits, according to a statement issued in February by Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark determined the cause of death to be accidental hyperthermia. Wilson had overheated inside the FEMA trailer.

Numerous FEMA trailer residents had reported problems with the thermostats. In particular, the trailers' heating systems would turn on despite the thermostats being switched to cool or off.

After the Oversight Committee subpoenaed Boone to testify as part of its investigation, the committee discovered Boone gave sworn statements that contradicted other evidence contained in company emails and documents exchanged by executives at CB&I.

In its recent letter to Boone, the committee wrote, "We are writing to give you a final opportunity to correct or withdraw your sworn testimony before the Committee on April 5, 2017."

In his testimony to the committee, Boone claimed his company fully complied with its contractual responsibilities to FEMA and "was not aware of any problems with malfunctioning thermostats." But Boone's claims were false, according to the committee.

"These claims are overwhelmingly contradicted by numerous documents obtained by the committee," the letter reads.

In bold lettering, one of the letter's subheadings reads: "Documents Show Company Knew of Thermostat Problems Before Everett Wilson's Death."

The committee uncovered several emails showing CB&I had been struggling with the faulty thermostats before Wilson's death. The letter contains, among others, the following statements:

  • On August 9, 2016, CB&I’s subcontractor, D&D Emergency Services, emailed CB&I Senior Project Manager Kevin Neal and other CB&I officials that it had to perform an emergency maintenance call because a resident’s “Ac stopped working.” He added: “We had to replace her thermostat.”
  • On September 20, 2016, a CB&I employee emailed Neal at CB&I regarding pre-occupation checks at a separate trailer, reporting: “[T]he thermostat isn’t working.”
  • On October 10, 2016, FEMA manager Carl Kahn emailed Neal at CB&I to notify him that an “applicant has system stuck on heat at 99 deg for 2 days.”
  • On October 17, 2016, the week before Wilson was killed, the chief executive of CB&I’s subcontractor, D&D Emergency Services, reported to CB&I executives that an air conditioner in a separate trailer was “only blowing heat” and that a technician had “bad thermostat replace [sic] with digital thermostat.”

Another primary issue the committee is investigating is CB&I's management of a maintenance hotline it established for FEMA trailer residents. The committee found the company often had no one staffing the maintenance hotline and by December of 2016 had failed to respond to 90 percent of the maintenance calls.

CB&I has had a FEMA disaster recovery contract in the southeast region since May 8, 2009. It's a standing contract to provide recovery services as task orders are issued for different disasters. The company's recent order included the maintenance of more than 4,000 trailers, a committee staff member said Thursday.

Though its recent letter addresses only CB&I, the committee is examining the entire disaster response to the August 2016 Baton Rouge flooding, including a review of FEMA's oversight of contractors.

On Friday, Boone's attorney Jessica Abrahams said her firm was reviewing the letter and will later provide an appropriate response to the Committee, though she contended that her client gave false testimony.

"We strongly disagree that false testimony was proffered by Mr. Boone during that hearing," Abrahams said. "It should be noted that Mr. Boone just returned from Baton Rouge yesterday meeting with FEMA officials and visiting the work sites.

"Various FEMA officials continue to pay compliments to the CB&I team for the outstanding work in helping the Baton Rouge community recovery from this disaster," she said. "We remain committed to our work under this disaster relief project and to serving the residents of the Baton Rouge area that were affected by this terrible disaster."

The full from the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee can be read below:

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