Manufacturer Of Defective North Carolina Bridge Parts Sentenced To 35 Months In Federal Prison
RALEIGH – The United States Attorney’s Office announced that today in federal court before United States District Judge Terrence W. Boyle, JOEL DE LA TORRE, 34, of Chicago, Illinois, was sentenced to serve 35 months in federal prison on charges of Making False Statements Concerning Highway Projects, and Aggravated Identity Theft. The defendant was also ordered to serve a 3 year term of supervised release and to make restitution.
In October of 2011 a federal highway contractor discovered a defect in a grouping of elastomeric bridge bearings that had been shipped for use on bridges in North Carolina. An elastomeric bridge bearing is a slab of rubber that is reinforced with multiple layers of steel and placed underneath bridges to absorb shock. The bearings were defective because the steel plates were exposed, subjecting them to the elements and creating the potential for deterioration. The North Carolina Department of Transportation began an investigation and found systematic problems with the bearings that had been shipped, and in some instances installed, on bridge projects throughout the state. In total, 1,270 of the shipped bearings were found to be nonconforming and defective. The bearings were shipped in connection with 25 different highway projects in North Carolina between May of 2009 and October of 2011. Upon further investigation, the Department of Transportation found that many of the bridge bearings had come from a company named Delgado Elastomeric Bearings Corporation located in the Chicago area.
The United States Department of Transportation conducted a criminal investigation into the creation and shipment of the defective bridge bearings. It was discovered that the North Carolina application to supply the bridge bearings to local contractors had been forged. The name of a teenager with no knowledge of how to manufacture bridge bearings was fraudulently used on the application. This teenager was also held out by Delgado Elastomeric Bearings Corporation as the vice president of the company, when in fact, the teenager had no idea of this title. This same name and title had also been used on all certificates sent to North Carolina highway contractors certifying the conformity of the bearings with applicable state and federal regulations.
Ultimately, the investigation revealed that the defendant, JOEL DE LA TORRE, had forged the name of the teenager on the documents described above. Inspection of the Chicago facility used to manufacture the bridge bearings revealed that the facility did not contain the required testing devices and machinery which would have revealed the defects in the bridge bearings.
Although not presently incurred, costs associated with the replacement of the bearings are expected over time to exceed $5 million due to the difficulty in removing the bearings from beneath existing structures, engineering costs, and traffic control. Federal and state agencies have reported that there is no immediate threat to safety due to the faulty bearings, which will be monitored and replaced over time.
On March 2, 2016, the defendant’s brother, Santiago De La Torre, pleaded guilty in federal court to his role in the scheme, and to perjury. Santiago De La Torre’s sentencing is presently scheduled for the court’s June 20, 2016 term.
The investigation of this case was conducted by the United States Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General, with the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney William M. Gilmore represented the United States.