Justice Dept. sues armored vehicle maker over ‘null and void transaction’
Demands return of $224,100 that ‘was unduly taken from us’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Three years after the island Public Safety Department purchased a 2018 Chevrolet Suburban Premier from the Texas Armoring Corp. (TAC) that cost $224,100, with the government attempting to get the money back because the vehicle was never shipped, Justice Secretary-designate Domingo Emmanuelli filed a petition in San Juan Superior Court on Monday against the manufacturing company and its CEO Ronald Trent Kimball “for not complying with the legal requirements of government contracting” and demanding “the restitution of all money paid.”
The lawsuit calls on TAC to cancel the purchase contract because it didn’t fulfill the government’s legal contract requests and to hand back $224,100, with “interest and legal costs,” for the undelivered armored vehicle that La Fortaleza requested, Emanuelli said, “for safety reasons.”
“We are vindicating our country’s right to recover what was unduly taken from us in a transaction that we understand to be null and void, and that the money paid for a bus [SUV] that was never delivered should be returned,” Emanuelli said during a press conference.
“February 26 of this year marked the third year since the armored vehicle was purchased.
Something that could have been done before, we are doing it now, only two months since we joined the Department of Justice.”
Emanuelli said the determination to take action in the case, to which he pointed out General Services Administration (ASG by its Spanish initials) Administrator Karla Mercado’s decision to refer the controversial purchase to the Justice Department on Jan. 21, takes the department one step closer in “becoming Puerto Rico’s law firm, the Department of Justice that has never been.”
“Any reasonable person would think that the Puerto Rico government was being scammed,” Emanuelli said. “They are going to realize [in the lawsuit that] there was a preemptive mood … you don’t know what happened with that vehicle. They [TAC] gave explanations when they wanted to.”
Mercado noted that the ASG attempted multiple times to contact TAC about the armored vehicle’s status, efforts which she said came to nothing.
She said ASG officials visited the San Antonio-based manufacturing company, where they were shown a Cadillac Escalade instead of the purchased model.
“And still, to this day, we cannot determine if the vehicle is finished, if it is complete,” Mercado said. “They have not been responsive, even though they have been paid almost in full for the vehicle.”
The petition states that the original contract was signed on Feb. 26, 2018, by the then-director of the Governor’s Office, Raymond Cruz, to purchase a Chevrolet Suburban Premier. On the same date, the ASG issued the payment voucher against the obligation for $165,950.
The lawsuit asserts that among other contractual conditions, a $27,550 discount to the original cost of $272,550 and the delivery of the vehicle in 120 to 150 days did not occur.
The second payment for $58,150 was issued on Oct. 25, 2018.
“From October 26, 2018, until early February 2019, TAC did not inform or communicate with the plaintiffs on any aspect related to the purchase of the armored motor vehicle,” the lawsuit says.
The petition also establishes that a teleconference was held on Nov. 5, 2019 between TAC employee Mike Weaver and Public Safety Chief of Staff Silvia Saldaña, after which an email was sent with photos of a Cadillac Escalade vehicle, which TAC executives claimed was a vehicle similar to the one purchased.
“This shows that TAC offered a different motor vehicle to the DSP [Department of Public Safety] to replace the Chevrolet Suburban that had been paid for in advance,” the document says.
A member of the press asked if it was possible, even though the vehicle was paid for, that TAC had sold it or it had disappeared.
“Or maybe they never started [preparing it],” Emanuelli replied.