Originally created 11/27/98

Contractor suing university



ORANGEBURG, S.C. -- A contractor locked in a dispute with South Carolina State University has sued the school, alleging it raided federal grants to cover shortfalls in building a campus office complex.

Jeffery T. Hass of Charleston-based Hass Construction Co. contends that the Orangeburg school used a grant slated for library improvements and a teleconference center to help pay for the office complex when it is required to fund its own project deficits.

University President Leroy Davis refused Wednesday to discuss the lawsuit.

The federal suit asks that South Carolina State repay the U.S. Agriculture department as much as $6.9 million.

That is three times more than the $2.3 million that Mr. Hass alleges was improperly diverted from one Agriculture Department grant to another.

The lawsuit was filed June 1 but remained under seal until the Justice Department decided if it would take the case, said Mr. Hass' attorney, Hank Wall.

The department decided not to step in, but can do so later, Mr. Wall said.

Mr. Wall said he and Mr. Hass discovered the alleged improprieties during fights with the school about cost overruns for the office building.

That dispute resulted in a finding that both the college and Hass Construction Co. were at fault.

Both have appealed the ruling.

Mr. Hass' federal suit is a separate action that Mr. Wall calls a "whistle-blower-style" claim.

Mr. Hass could get as much as 30 percent of the settlement or award. His company lost $1.5 million in its attempt to build an office to house agricultural research and farmer-assistance programs.

Mr. Hass contends the college delayed and disrupted the project.

Among the problems was the fact that the school provided outdated land surveys that did not show underground lines, he said.

South Carolina State countered that Mr. Hass inflated costs or did poor work, and did it too slowly.

A state procurement review panel ordered Mr. Hass to pay $463,900 and barred the company from getting other state contracts.

But the panel said the college primarily was to blame for the delays. The building remains about two-thirds complete.