David Eller, former Jeb Bush business partner and longtime GOP donor, rarely has trouble snagging government work for his family's Deerfield Beach manufacturing company, Moving Water Industries (MWI).
But the $7 million federal stimulus package contract MWI recently received could raise some eyebrows.
MWI will be supplying water pumps and motors for a dam improvement project in Red Bluff, California. It's a Department of Interior stimulus project, touted as a feel-good environmental boon, easing water passage for salmon and sturgeon. Eller says his company had to submit a competitive bid to win the contract.
Yet MWI's track record with such high-profile government projects is less-than-stellar.
In 2006, during the government's rush to protect New Orleans from the first hurricane season after Katrina, MWI provided flood-control pumps that the Army Corps of Engineers found to be defective. A corps engineer warned that the pumps would fail if a storm hit, according to the Associated Press. The equipment, which MWI provided under a $26.6 million contract, had to be removed and overhauled.
Meanwhile, the U.S Department of Justice has had a years-long feud with MWI. In 2002, after a lengthy FBI investigation, the feds filed a lawsuit raising questions about a deal in which Nigeria bought equipment from MWI using $74 million in loans from the U.S. Export-Import Bank. The suit accused the company of making improper payments to Nigerian officials and alleged that Eller was flying with suitcases full of cash to the Bahamas and Grand Cayman to hide assets.
So is this the kind of company that deserves big stimulus bucks? Eller thinks so.
He blames the Katrina water-pump scandal on "false information" put out by competitors. His company had four months to do a job that would normally take a year, he says, so some problems were inevitable -- but they were fixed.
"Whatever problems that came up, we took care of," he says. "And we're on good relations with the Army [Corps of Engineers] and have supplied a lot more equipment since then."
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As for the Nigerian deal, he says the federal lawsuit stemmed from a former employee "making false accusations," and he's not sure where it stands now.
"We gave 'em all the records; we showed 'em that we had not done anything," he says. "We haven't heard anything for years" about the case.
The Juice is still tracking down the case. Stay tuned for updates.
UPDATE: The case is still unresolved, languishing in a federal court in Washington, D.C., a dozen years after it was originally filed.