Coffman calls for criminal probe of Aurora VA hospital project

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AURORA | U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, has joined another member of Congress in calling for a criminal probe of the Veterans Affairs hospital construction project in Aurora.

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2012 file photo, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo. speaks in Denver.
Rep. Mike Coffman

In a letter Wednesday to VA deputy inspector general Linda Halliday and VA Office of Accountability Review director Michael Culpepper, Coffman and Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., asked for the respective offices “to make appropriate criminal referrals to law enforcement” regarding the cost overruns and mismanagement on the Aurora project.

The letter comes about a week after Coffman pressed for the full release of the VA’s Administrative Investigation Board findings on the Aurora VA hospital project, which has been delayed and only released in a summarized vesion to Congress.

Specifically, Coffman and Rice want a review of the AIB report and seek to have criminal referrals made — if “necessary and appropriate” — regarding VA officials who provided “knowingly inaccurate testimony” before Congress.

“The American taxpayers deserve answers. The mismanagement and cost overruns of the Aurora VA hospital are outrageous. At the least, I believe that a number of these VA employees knowingly lied to my subcommittee and other congressional committees about the project’s problems,” Coffman said. “I expect the Veterans Affairs Office of Accountability Review and the Office of the Inspector General to do their job and see if any of these VA officials committed criminal acts as the cost skyrocketed from $604 million to $1.73 billion.”

The AIB report’s summary states that the VA officials responsible for the ballooning cost of the Aurora construction project have either retired or left the VA. Coffman has been vocal in recent years regarding perfomance bonuses and pensions collected by those officials.

“As a former prosecutor, this project has struck me since day one as a case that’s ripe for criminal review, given the outrageous scope of the cost overruns and the VA’s repeated refusal to provide our subcommittee with details about what caused them and who is responsible,” Rice said in a statement. “Now that the VA has finally given us a summary of the AIB report and announced that they intend to take no additional actions as a result of the investigation, we still have yet to see anyone be held truly accountable for the actions and decisions that caused this project to more than double in cost. We still don’t know whether this was a case of incompetence and mismanagement, wasteful spending or theft – but regardless, it cannot be swept under the rug.

“If the VA has uncovered any evidence of criminal activity in the course of this investigation, that information must be swiftly turned over to relevant law enforcement officials so that we can finally get some answers and American veterans and taxpayers can finally get the accountability they deserve,” Rice said.

Coffman and Rice’s letter cites five separate hearings between March 2012 and April 2014 in which they believe that witnesses for the VA “presented what appears to have been a knowingly inacccurate picture of the Aurora project.”

The letter also singled out former VA construction executive Glenn Haggstrom’s April 22, 2014, field hearing in Aurora, for claiming the “VA has the funds necessary to complete this project” when there was already evidence that the project’s cost would be rising. Coffman and Rice went as far as to label Haggstrom’s assertions “misleading” and “made deliberately and in bad faith.”