LEXINGTON, KY (FOX19) - A FOX19 NOW investigation into allegations a subcontractor submitted fabricated welding certifications for work at the University of Cincinnati's led the University of Kentucky to launch an investigation into the subcontractor. We uncovered the same certifications used during the UC Nippert Stadium renovation at a $112 million construction project in Lexington.
The certifications were first questioned in June when the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center filed a complaint with UC, detailing allegations that a subcontractor, Merit Erectors, submitted fabricated welding certifications for work on the Nippert project.
UC told FOX19 it hired a third party inspector to re-inspect the job, but none of the welds were radiographed. An x-ray inspection is the most thorough way to check weld quality, according to American Welding Society Auditor, Mike Blakeman.
INVESTIGATION SPANS THE TRI-STATE
We filed open records requests with multiple public agencies in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio following our investigation last month into the certifications at UC. Our sources told us some of the same certifications used at UC were used at Lawrenceburg High School and the University of Kentucky.
We filed requests with both to find out.
Lawrenceburg High School spent $11.5 million on a gymnasium renovation that was completed before this school year. Construction records show some of the same certifications used at UC were submitted on the Lawrenceburg project.
Lawrenceburg's project management firm, Bruns-Gutzwiller provided weld certification records to us following our Sept. 23 request. Then, hours before our report was set to air, Lawrenceburg School Corporation Superintendent Karl Galey sent dozens of records to FOX19—records the district did not provide in the Sept. 25 response to our open records request.
The Lawrenceburg High angle will be fully reported at a later date as we work to confirm, verify and research the new information sent to FOX19 today.
UK answered our open records request within days, providing welding certifications submitted by Merit Erectors for work on the $112 million science building project there. Those records showed Merit Erectos submitted the certifications to Messer Construction on April 8, less than a month after submitting the same certifications to UC for work on the Nippert project.
The UK certifications included one for a man who died 16 months before Merit Erectors was hired for the UK job and another for a foreman who went out on medical leave 13 months earlier.
UK: MERIT ERECTORS' CERTIFICATIONS 'ACCREDITATION WASN'T IN PLACE'
On Sept. 24, the day after our University of Cincinnati Nippert Stadium investigation aired, we emailed the University of Kentucky to question the Merit Welding certifications submitted there. UK's public relations office called back, telling us the university was "unaware" of potential problems with their certifications.
"I'm sure our folks will start our own investigation," UK's Public Relations Director Kathy Johnson told FOX19.
Within days, UK confirmed an active investigation was underway to verify the validity of the Merit Erectors weld certifications. UK told FOX19 it took it a step further, ordering an outside inspection company to re-inspect every weld made on the Academic Science Building by Merit Erectors.
"It came to light when we got the questions from you and started looking into it," UK's Public Relations Director Jay Blanton told FOX19. "We want to make sure we can ensure the safety of everyone involved."
Blanton said the work Messer Construction hired Merit Erectors to perform was 30 percent complete and that Merit Erectors was scheduled to return to campus to finish work sometime between November and December.
"The investigation's just started. The welder in question—the subcontractor is not doing any work right now," Blanton said.
UK and Messer Construction have been in communication since our Sept. 24 calls to UK, the university confirmed.
Messer Construction would not discuss the certification issue with FOX19 after multiple email communications, requesting the company to do so. In an emailed statement, Messer Construction spokeswoman, Tiffany Williamson, wrote, "We are confident all of their work was done properly and meets applicable standards."
"Out of an abundance of caution and in conjunction with the University of Kentucky, we have engaged a third-party independent inspector to revalidate all work performed by Merit Erectors, Inc. and ensure compliance," Williamson continued.
UK told FOX19 NOW the university "is requiring a third party safety inspection of all welds made by the subcontractor in question."
That inspection is underway right now, the university confirmed.
'I HAVE TO GET TO WORK, THANKS'
Since Sept. 15, we've made multiple attempts to interview Merit Erectors owner Chris Koenig to include his side of this investigation. We left messages for Koenig through emails, phone calls and visits to job sites.
None of those attempts to contact Koenig were successful.
The questions for Koenig have to do with the certifications that an American Welding Society expert said were faked. Koenig's name appears on each certification as the person who authorized each certification.
Another man, also named on each certification is Jeff Jones. Jones is listed as the weld inspector who certified Merit's welders. Jones told FOX19, the Merit Erectors certifications were "fakes."
"There is definitely a falsification of my name on that paperwork," Jones told FOX19 in an interview last month.
Koenig is also listed as the president of Merit Erectors, Inc.
After weeks of research, we found an apartment complex Koenig owns in Mt. Lookout, deeded to Koenig Family, LLC. Koenig uses an apartment in the building as the home offices of Merit Erectors, Inc.
One of the mailboxes at the complex has a unit labeled "KOENIG MERIT ERECTORS." We found Koenig's truck parked in the woods behind the office and waited for him to leave for work in that truck on Oct. 6.
Koenig would not stop to talk with us. As Koenig climbed into his truck, FOX19 asked Koenig for an interview. "No, I have to get to work, thanks," Koenig said as he cranked his truck and drove away.
As of this report, Chris Koenig has not contacted FOX19 to have his side included in this investigation.