FOX Files: Minority Contracting

Posted on: 10:25 pm, February 21, 2012, by , updated on: 03:08pm, February 22, 2012

Our story begins with an investigation that raises questions about a minority owned company and a high profile man behind it.
Read (and watch the report) for yourself.  Does this company really exist?  Or is it a front, set up to grab Government contracts?

The party’s over at ICR headquarters.  Former sports broadcaster Malcolm Briggs owns it.  It’s located off the Rock Road in Bridgeton and it’s certified as minority owned.

It’s now abandoned, littered with trash, supplies and old trucks.

Reporter Chris Hayes looked inside one of the vehicles and said, “these appear to be airport floor plans in this truck that looks like it’s unlocked.”

A dry erase board inside reads “We broke now.”  Yet the address is still connected to high profile government jobs, like the North Sarah Housing Project, the O’Fallon Park Recreation Center and Lambert Airport Renovations.  It’s work done under another Malcolm Briggs business called “Full Circle Flooring,” also certified as minority owned.  But where’s the office?  It’s not the one on St. Charles Rock Road.

We found one other listing here on Brentwood Boulevard.  Inside, the suite number looks like a closet.  No sign.  No answer at the door.  We visited repeatedly, even staying one entire day.  Then I asked at an office next door.  A woman told me, “I don’t even know exactly what his business was.”  She added, “There were a couple times when a UPS guy came. Days later they’d come in and say ‘I understand you have a package of ours.’”

Briggs personal bankruptcy records reveal ‘total liabilities’ of more than $4.5 million.  The liabilities include lists of tax claims involving Briggs’ previous business.  The records also show assets like furs, jewelry and his home in Frontenac.

We did walk in on Briggs in his office one day, but he told us he couldn’t interrupt his meeting.  While surrounded by a group of people he said, “I can’t right not.”
Chris Hayes interjected, “We’ve got time.”
Briggs replied, “It’s probably going to be awhile.”

Briggs never appeared to show up again.  We returned more than a dozen times.  We also visited job sites where his Full Circle company works.  Employees at his projects tell me they don’t see Briggs much.  In fact they say they don’t really work for him.  Instead, they say they work for a business not certified minority owned.  They tell me everything’s run out of Fenton at a place called Zickel Flooring.  The employees described wearing different shirts with the Full Circle logo when they work the minority job.

Zickel made it clear, no comment.  By phone I asked, “Is there anybody who can talk to me about what this connection is between Full Circle and Zickel?”  The operator replied, “No sir, I’m sorry.”

We took our evidence to Eric Vickers, who’s made a living fighting for racial justice.  Vickers said, “It has all the indicia of being a front company.”  Vickers added, “That sends a signal that it’s ok to play games in the marketplace rather than to contract with those women and minorities who are legitimately trying to set up firms.”

Vickers protested Briggs 8 years ago, when Briggs was still working in TV as a sports broadcaster and just getting into contracting.

By phone, Malcom Briggs denied being a front man or using employees from another company.  He said he hires them straight from the Union and doesn’t see why his employees would tell me otherwise.  So we called the Union asking about Briggs’ company, Full Circle. A representative gave us a phone number registered in Fenton.  The Union Rep said, “They’ll answer Zickel.  Tell them you want to deal with Full Circle.”

So I called.  What follows is the exchange.

[Operator] Zickel Flooring
[Chris Hayes] Hi, I’m looking for Full Circle Flooring?
[Operator] May I ask who’s calling?
[Hayes] Yeah, this is Chris Hayes.
[Operator] Hold on please.

After more than a minute on hold, she came back on the line to say, “I’m sorry you have the wrong number.”

Briggs denied repeated requests for an interview, including three phone calls and more than 12 personal visits.  I even delivered a letter to his office asking for specifics about his track record and the number of minorities and women he’s hired.  He didn’t respond, but he did brag about a new sign on his office.  It’s printed out on paper and taped to the door.  His response, by phone, to requests for interviews?  “There’s nothing in it for me.”

This may be perfectly legal.  That’s because Malcolm Briggs has this piece of paper from Missouri’s Secretary of State that registers Full Circle Flooring as a business, that he solely owns.

This may point to a bigger issue, detailed in a new study that indicates a shortage of minority workers and business owners.
Now some industry groups say St. Louis must make drastic changes if it’s going to build a workforce — that’s both solid and diverse.

Brian Murphy of BAM Contracting fears minority front companies could be fueled by a worker shortage.  I asked him, “As an owner, have you had a hard time finding minority workers?”
Murphy, “It is a part of my business plan – to try to employ minority workers in the work force.  It’s been frustrating for me to try to get skilled journeymen workers out of the African American community”

Yet a new St. Louis City Board bill sets a goal of 32% minority workers boots on the ground.

I asked Murphy, “Are there enough minority workers out there to to abide by that?”
Murphy, “In a word no, there’s not.”

Don’t mistake what he’s saying.

He added, “I applaud those efforts.  I think the alderman there, you know, you look in their community and there’s a major development going on in their community, they want to see folks that look like me.”

The challenge in making that work is revealed in a study by the Associated General Contractors.  It found only 7% of the St. Louis workforce is made up of minority men.

Murphy added, “You can find a lot of guys, but you’ve got to find guys that are ready uhm and I wouldn’t say that’s just in the minority community.  Some guys whether they’re white or black, don’t want to work that hard.”

The AGC report reveals a workforce, not only white, but also reaching retirement.  It notes as many as 1/4th of the workforce may retire by 2017.

AGC opened the Construction Career Center to recruit minorities to fill the gap.  Also known as CCC, it’s a charter high school with many empty seats.  Recruiter Cornelius Weaver is trying to fill them.

I asked Weaver, “Is there a perception problem?”
Weaver replied, “You know, I think a lot of times people perceive construction to be just hammer and nails. They perceive it to be a very grunt, poor man’s trade uhm, but it’s definitely not.  There are some high wage paying jobs.”

Terral Henderson is a CCC grad who had an Iron Worker job waiting for him.  He’s not sure kids know about the opportunities.

I asked him about, “the kids you grew up with.  What did they want to do?”
Henderson said, “A lot of them, you know, doctors and lawyers, football players.  You never hear a lot of them say ‘I want to be a construction worker.”

He not only makes good money ($32/hour not counting benefits), he’s also only four years out of High School.  He’s already dreaming of his own contracting company.  Henderson hears plenty about minority fronts.  He said, “A lot actually.  Different guys talk about it.  A couple pop up and they say, ‘Oh yeah this company’s owned by such and such.  It’s really owned by this man, but he has it in this person’s name.”

Click on parts II and III of our special report to see a conversation with one of the men behind the study and a minority contracting advocate.

Despite challenges in finding a diverse workforce, the City of St. Louis says it is succeeding in finding minority workers for the new O’Fallon Park Recreation Center.  So far, the numbers seem to indicate 1/3 of the workers are minorities and that is the goal under a new Board Bill passed by St. Louis alderman.  The previous goal was 10%.  The state of the art facility, set to be completed next month, will join the Southside Rec Center as the first recreation centers built in St. Louis since 1971.  The City and it’s contractors are proud that the men and women building O’Fallon Park Rec, look like the community it will serve.

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