Hoping to make someone, anyone pay attention to the mayoral runoff, Ed Oakley has launched The Truth About Tom, a dumb and clumsy Web site largely dedicated to exposing Tom Leppert’s record as CEO of Turner Construction -- and misrepresenting one of our own stories. We’ll get to us later, but first let’s talk about Ed and Tom.
Since the highlights of Oakley’s business experience include buying up property in a part of town he can control as a council member, he doesn’t quite seem to understand that some people choose to make their living in the messy, unpredictable world of the private sector. As such, Oakley’s Web site rehashes news stories on a handful of construction projects Turner has allegedly bungled, including the Alltel Arena in North Little Rock. There, the city fired Turner after arena officials cancelled a game when an upper-level support beam displayed cracks.
Turner’s experience in Little Rock didn’t exactly doom the company. In September 2006, Turner won a $615-million contract to build the new New York Yankees stadium.
If there were serious questions about Turner, wouldn't the most glamorous team in professional sports have chosen someone else? But, see, Turner is an $8 billion giant, having built towers, stadiums, hotels and schools around the world. Occasionally, they’re going to run into problems, but it doesn’t seem like any of them have affected the company’s overall fortunes.
But this being politics, we can sort of understand that a candidate’s record as CEO is fair game, even if it’s taken out of context.
No, what we’re more upset about is how Oakley is misrepresenting one of our stories on his site. In a section titled “Kickbacks,” Oakley refers to a May 3 story I wrote about how Leppert didn’t really move his company to Dallas, as he's claimed approximately 19,432 times on the campaign trail. The new CEO works in New York, and most of the company’s operations still take place there, I reported. Overall, it wasn’t a flattering story as it debunked -- or I'd like to think, at least -- one of Leppert’s central claims.
At the end of the piece, however, I dismissed an attack from then-mayoral candidate Max Wells, who had said Leppert’s company was found guilty of fraud and abuse when he was CEO. In fact, the company did get in trouble with the Department of Justice stemming from a 1997 arrangement with its bond broker, where it took credits on bonds for dozens of federal contracts without sharing them with the federal government. That predates Leppert's arrival as CEO by two years.
And although this arrangement continued for at least a year after Leppert took over, the Justice Department’s own records don’t lay the blame on Leppert. As far as I know, nobody has disclosed any evidence that Leppert -- who, let’s say it again, ran an $8 billion company -- had any knowledge of this one solitary bond arrangement. That’s basically what I wrote in my story.
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But Oakley’s site paraphrased my piece this way:
Leppert responded in news coverage by claiming that the violations pre-dated his time as CEO of Turner, but this statement is untrue. Kickbacks, which began in 1997, continued through 1998, while Leppert served on the Board of Directors of the firm and then at least one year into his tenure as CEO, until the practice was exposed by the Justice Department. (As reported in the Dallas Observer 5/3/07)
The Web site doesn't link to my story, and my story never once mentioned the word “kickbacks,” which is a loaded word that doesn’t even apply to what happened. Nor did I write that Leppert’s defense of his actions was “untrue.” That was never, ever in my story. Oakley is completely representing a positive part of my story on Tom Leppert as something damaging to his candidate. And it just wasn’t.
To be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to research a construction company’s 10-year old contract with a bond issuer. So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Leppert deserves some blame, even if the Justice Department doesn’t seem to think so. But at this point at least, nobody and nothing -- including Ed Oakley and his dirty-politics Web site -- has shown me that my conclusions were false. So instead, they have chosen to distort them. Actually, distort is one way to describe it. Bald-faced lie is another. Say, what's our lawyer's number again? --Matt Pulle