Biden Taps Head of LA Metro to Lead Transportation Transition Team, Despite Two Ongoing Federal Criminal Investigations

Phil Washington, LA Metro CEO

 

While the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is still being litigated in the courts, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are hard at work creating their potential cabinet, which so far contains a large number of Obama administration retreads and people of questionable competence and integrity. It’s already well-known that current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is being eyed to lead the Department of Transportation; the level of his ineptitude is rivaled only by his penchant for cronyism. The Biden/Harris team have chosen one of the few Los Angeles “leaders” with a worse record than Garcetti as the head of their Transportation Transition Team – Phil Washington, CEO of LA Metro, the agency that runs the region’s trains, subways, and buses.

In a two-month span this year, it was revealed that the agency unknowingly distributed counterfeit N95 masks to its staff early in the pandemic, failed to alert employees when the issue was discovered, then lied about it to staff, unions, and the media; and that top Metro executives, including Washington, were involved in improperly awarding a no-bid contract to answer a sexual harassment hotline to a close friend of LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Federal criminal investigations have been initiated regarding both of those incidents.

In addition, a whistleblower contacted RedState stating that in June Washington personally participated in passing out black armbands at the beginning of each shift for Metro employees to wear to signify their support of Black Lives Matter.

Counterfeit N95 Masks Distributed

In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Metro had a limited stock of PPE on hand, like most agencies. As of March 18, the day after the “Safer at Home” order was issued, Washington reported to the Board of Supervisors that Metro was prioritizing its distribution of things like N95 masks to employees based on their position and duties, and that management was meeting weekly with the five labor unions whose members work at Metro to “discuss responses and actions.”

On April 2 Metro officials announced that a driver based in Carson had tested positive, the first driver to do so. At that time the Carson City Council called on Metro to suspend service because they couldn’t properly and reliably protect employees or passengers, and Mayor Albert Robles issued a terse statement:

“Churches are essential, but they’ve been closed down. Many other businesses that provide essential services have been closed down. Have done the responsible thing. But for L.A. Metro to not be responsible, not care about their own employees, not care about the passengers, not care about the community at-large and immediately suspend their operations is just irresponsible.”

A month later, several Metro employees anonymously spoke to reporters at the LA Times, describing the lack of protective and sanitizing equipment:

Fears of contracting the disease have been exacerbated by periodic shortages of masks, hand sanitizer and other protective gear at Metro’s bus yards, and a lack of hazard pay, drivers said.

It has been impossible to know whether masks and hand sanitizer will be available until they clock in for their shifts, drivers said. Many have found their own: a neck gaiter from Amazon, a precious N95 respirator from a daughter who works at a dentist’s office, a stack of papery masks from the lobby of a Kaiser Permanente hospital.

Nitrile gloves have been plentiful, but training on how to wear them and remove them has been scant, most drivers said.

Hand sanitizer has frequently been in short supply, drivers said. Workers at multiple yards said they were given a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer and told to make it last a week or more. Some made their own, using aloe vera and rubbing alcohol. Dispensers installed at some depots are frequently empty, they said.

According to emails provided to The Current Report, LA Metro learned in early May that some of the N95 masks – particularly the DTC3X – that had been distributed to employees were counterfeit:

On May 8th, 2020, a L.A. Metro Signal Inspector concerned for the safety of employees and the general public using Metro services, contacted Collins Kalu, L.A. Metro’s Sr. Director Safety Certifications and Operations Manager, inquiring about the follow-up – or lack thereof – regarding the notification to agency officials counterfeit masks were distributed more than a month previously and employees were still wearing the masks unaware they provided little, if any protection.

Kalu told the employee that the “DTCSX” was one of three masks Metro had investigated as being possibly counterfeit, and that it was the only one still undergoing further investigation, apparently mistyping the “DTC3X” model number. Kalu never followed up with the employee with the result of that investigation, and the unions didn’t issue any warnings to employees who might still have the DTC3X masks in their possession, even though the CDC had warned that DTC3X masks with ear loops instead of headbands were indeed counterfeit and had not passed NIOSH certification.

In early October Cece Woods, the investigative journalist who broke the story at The Current Report, sent a media inquiry to LA Metro telling them she’d been informed that counterfeit face masks had been unknowingly distributed to Metro employees in April and May, and asking what steps had been taken to rectify the situation and if a notice had been sent to employees warning them about the counterfeit masks.

Woods received a response denying that any counterfeit masks had ever been distributed by Metro, and since there were no counterfeit masks distributed, no notice had been sent to employees. The same day, Metro sent a notice to its employees informing them of the media inquiry but stressing that Metro’s Vendor/Contract Management never purchased the masks in question.

There’s just one problem – there’s at least one photo of a Metro employee, on the job, wearing the DTC3X mask.

An LA Metro employee wearing a counterfeit N95 mask. Credit: The Current Report

In this close-up of the mask, the markings seem to be the same as those on the bus driver, and both have ear loops instead of headbands – which is the distinction NIOSH and CDC made between the genuine and counterfeit masks.

Photo provided by LA Metro whistleblower of counterfeit N95 mask provided to employees. Credit: The Current Report

After Woods’ initial report was published she received information from an additional source:

[A] second whistleblower from the Bus Drivers Division has come forward and provided physical evidence of several models of potentially counterfeit N95 masks distributed to frontline employees. “This second whistleblower has offered an amazing amount of credible information and documentation which suggests there were double the number of counterfeit masks distributed to L.A. Metro employees,” said an inside source at the agency.

The counterfeit N95 mask coverup is currently being investigated by multiple federal agencies who contacted The Current Report within hours of the breaking news story.

Agents are interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence to present their case(s) to submit to the United States Assistant District Attorneys, Nicola T. Hanna and Mack Jenkins.

That source provided Woods with photos of a second type of N95 mask provided to Metro employees, which was not part of the same shipment that contained the DTC3X masks. This mask does not have the required authenticity markings listed on the CDC website.

Photo provided by LA Metro whistleblower of counterfeit N95 mask provided to employees. Credit: The Current Report

Photo provided by LA Metro whistleblower of counterfeit N95 mask provided to employees. Credit: The Current Report

Separate LA Metro sources told Woods that the counterfeit masks were not removed from the agency’s inventory.

Twenty days later, after federal investigators started questioning witnesses, Metro finally somewhat addressed the issue:

The agency has received hundreds of thousands of masks from a variety of sources since the pandemic began. These masks include donations from other government entities as well as direct agency purchases. 

We became aware that some of the N95 masks in our own inventory may be questionable. We have taken aggressive measures to eradicate them from our supplies. The agency has pulled its entire inventory of questionable N95 masks and they are no longer being issued to employees. Metro has a ready supply of certified N95 masks in stock and will be prioritizing their distribution to maintenance mechanics whose jobs require these specific types of masks. 

With the questionable N95 masks now sequestered, what we’re going to do next is fully investigate the origin of these masks….Metro has handed the matter over to the Office of Inspector General for investigation.

To date, there have been 378 cases and 3 deaths related to COVID19 at LA Metro since the beginning of the pandemic.

(Part 2 of this series will detail how a well-connected nonprofit landed a no-bid LA Metro contract to answer a sexual harassment hotline for an average of $8,000 per call.)