CDOT Doesn't Care About Subcontractors Getting Stiffed on State Projects, says Triple G

Triple G did concrete work on a project in Trinidad. Now it can't get paid.
Triple G did concrete work on a project in Trinidad. Now it can't get paid. Triple G Construction
When John Gonzales and two of his brothers formed Triple G Construction — a company that specializes in concrete construction — in 1991, Gonzales never thought he would be protesting outside the Colorado Department of Transportation headquarters thirty years later, on the brink of losing his life’s work.

“My company is shutting down because I can't afford to pay everything,” Gonzales bemoans. “I have zero employees now. I just now put them all on unemployment because I'm unable to keep them busy, unable to pay my bills to stay in business.”

According to Gonzalez, prime contractors on CDOT projects — particularly Flatiron Construction Corp — haven’t paid Triple G for its subcontracting work, causing him to have to scale back the business and let his employees go.

Triple G, which is based in Pueblo, started off mainly working on sidewalks, driveways and curbs for residential and housing developments, but after the 2008 recession it switched to subcontracting on state projects because that seemed more stable.

The company builds gutters and concrete barrier walls on highways, contributing to many projects in metro Denver, including the Interstate 25 and Santa Fe Drive interchange improvement project, and the Interstate 25 South Gap project. Triple G poured concrete for C-470 and the RTD light rail as well.

“State work, we considered it guaranteed money because everything that is done is done through the state and federal,” Gonzales explains. “If something were to fail, there's the chance that they can claim off their bonds.”

But that stability has waned over the years, Gonzales says, with payments from prime contractors on state projects being regularly delayed. While CDOT is required to promptly pay prime contractors — and those prime contractors are meant to pass on prompt payments to subcontractors — Gonzales has experienced backups. “It’s pretty common it could be a day or two, or even a week, late, but over the last past few years it's been getting worse and worse,” he says.

Now payment delays for Triple G’s most recent project on the Interstate 25 Exit 11 Interchange Improvements in Trinidad have put the business at risk, he says. The prime contractor, Flatiron, has repeatedly made Triple G fight for the money it’s owed, according to Gonzales.

“Right now we're five months behind on payment that hasn't been paid,” Gonzales says. “It really hurts you when you know they've been paid and they're not paying you.”

CDOT has a database called B2GNow where contractors can see the status of CDOT payments, particularly for Disadvantaged Business Enterprises — small businesses for which socially and economically disadvantaged people own at least 51 percent and control business operations, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Since Triple G is a DBE, Gonzales says he can see on B2GNow that Flatiron has been paid by CDOT but he hasn’t. In December, Gonzales called the other subcontractors on the project to ask if they’d been paid and found out they had. “We are the only contractor that I can see that is a DBE, disadvantaged business and minority, that has not been paid,” he says.
click to enlarge
Triple G says it hasn't been paid for its work on this project in Trinidad.
Triple G Construction
Gonzales says that Flatiron also took work from Triple G that was promised in its contract. While a prime contractor can perform work designated to a subcontractor if the subcontractor falls through, Gonzales says Triple G was always available to do the work and Flatiron never filed a change order to its contract.

“Sometimes we couldn't get to it so [the prime contractor] did it and they rightfully should get paid for it,” he says. “But in this instance, it's not right.”

Gonzales says the original contract would have paid Triple G a little over $500,000 for its work and, as of March, he hasn’t received anything close to the $400,000 that he should have been paid by Flatiron. That company did not respond to requests for comment.

Gonzales can’t stand to see his family business go down without a fight.

“I am currently selling off equipment,” he says. “I've always had this analogy with any company: you pay your employees; you pay your bills, your vendors and such; and you pay your taxes and you will be in business for a long time. You don't do that and you'll be down in no time at all. I've never had that problem. I've never had this kind of experience and now it's like what do I do next?”

After months of going unpaid, Gonzales protested outside of CDOT in February, trying to get the department’s civil rights team to pay attention to his plight. While he did make contact with CDOT, he says there hasn't been any progress in the month sincce.

“I brought it to the attention of CDOT and it just seems to get shoved to the side,” Gonzales says.

According to Ivonne Colin, CDOT communications manager for planning & modernization, the agency takes complaints like Gonzales’s seriously — but it can’t interfere between a prime and subcontractor.

“Specifically in this situation, we've coordinated and there is documentation that they can submit and we can further look into it if there is a discrepancy on a payment,” Colin says. “We have worked with this subcontractor and the prime in depth.”

CDOT has official forms that subcontractors can fill out to notify CDOT that it hasn’t been treated well by prime contractors, but the department can’t do any more than encourage the parties to work out discrepancies. “It's definitely a case where CDOT cannot really step in,” she says. “If there's a discrepancy in between the subcontractor and the prime, that is something that CDOT cannot facilitate.”

Gonzales doesn’t think it’s right that subcontractors have nowhere to turn, and plans to file liens as a last resort.

“Something needs to be done to ensure that a prime contractor properly pays,” he says. “There should be some kind of ramifications for what they've done to my company. I've basically lost my livelihood….This is something that's weighed pretty heavily not only on myself, but my family and other people around me."

Gonzales plans to protest at the State Capitol as well as Denver International Airport, where Flatiron currently has another project with CDOT. He doesn’t want this problem to escape the attention of people in power.

“If you ask me what am I trying to prove here," Gonzales says, "I don't want it to happen to somebody else along with myself."
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire

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