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Feds eye Western Pa. ties in Katrina investigation

| Thursday, July 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

A federal grand jury in Baton Rouge is investigating the bonding of two federally funded school construction contracts handled by three companies, including 84 Lumber Co. of Eighty-Four.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency contracts were for construction of South Plaquemines High School in Port Sulfur and Mildred Osborne Elementary School in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, according to a copy of a federal subpoena the Tribune-Review obtained.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Baton Rouge said it can't confirm or deny whether there's an investigation.

FEMA awarded contracts to F.H. Paschen, S.N. Nielsen & Associates LLC, of Chicago. That company subcontracted the foundation and structural work to J&A Construction Management Resource Company Inc. of Jena, La., which hired 84 Lumber to do the work.

Jeff Nobers, a spokesman for 84 Lumber, confirmed that the government subpoenaed 84 Lumber to supply documents. The company hasn't been told it's the subject of an investigation, he said.

“We have no reason to believe we are under investigation and, obviously, they don't tell you who is,” Nobers said.

In 2012, 84 Lumber sued F.H. Paschen, seeking about $1.8 million it claims the Chicago contractor owes it for work on the school projects. F.H. Paschen filed a response saying 84 Lumber failed to carry out its contract.

Nobers declined to comment on the lawsuit.

J&A owner Addie Mills said Wednesday that she was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury next week. She referred questions to her attorney, who couldn't be reached.

J&A made a counterclaim in the civil lawsuit and 84 Lumber invoked a clause in its contract with J&A requiring the dispute to go to arbitration.

A federal judge in New Orleans put the case on hold and ordered the companies into arbitration, which is pending.

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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