ShareThis Page

VA Butler's outpatient center put on hold

| Friday, July 12, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

The Department of Veterans Affairs halted construction of a $75 million outpatient center in Butler while federal officials investigate the prime contractor, the agency confirmed on Thursday.

The stop work order, issued June 21, is “based on the initial findings of an ongoing VA Office of Inspector General investigation of the prime contractor and certain company representatives,” the VA said in a statement. VA officials would not disclose the inspector general's findings.

The prime contractor is VA Butler Partners Co., based in Cleveland and formed within the last year by representatives of Westar Development Corp., which had overseen the project since its infancy, said Ken Kalberer, health systems specialist at the Butler Township VA facility.

Several representatives of VA Butler Partners, including president Sam Calabrese, did not return phone messages.

VA Butler Partners is a “special purpose entity” formed to develop, build and manage the VA Butler Health Care Center for an initial period of 20 years, according to the company's website.

The VA would lease the building from the developer for an average of $7.6 million a year for two decades.

“VA takes these allegations very seriously and will aggressively pursue any and all legal actions necessary. The stop work order provides formal notice to the contractor to cease work on the contract until further notice. VA will continue to evaluate the allegations to determine the appropriate next actions,” the agency said.

Mark Ballesteros, a representative for the VA in Washington, where the Butler project is being overseen, had no further comment.

The work stoppage happened after federal prosecutors in Cleveland indicted a Westar executive in April for mail fraud and related charges, shortly before the groundbreaking in Butler.

Westar said at the time that it fired senior vice president Robert Berryhill after his indictment. It withdrew its request to Butler County for $3.2 million in property tax breaks for the $75 million project. It is scheduled to open in 2015.

“I think the federal government will bring in another contractor,” said Butler County Commissioner Bill McCarrier. He said he was not aware of the stop work order. “The federal government's not going to let that project die.”

Kalberer said he did not know how long the project might be delayed.

“We are working closely with the Office of General Counsel to resolve this,” Kalberer said. “We have confidence that things will be worked out.”

Westar said in April that Berryhill's indictment was tied to accusations that, before he worked at Westar, he stole more than $226,000 from companies involved in the construction of FBI offices in Knoxville, Tenn., and Indianapolis.

Berryhill entered a plea agreement in U.S. District Court in Akron on April 23, according to court records, and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 30. The plea agreement is sealed.

Cleveland attorney Richard Blake, who represents Berryhill in the federal criminal case, said it has nothing to do with the Butler project.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Butler, is aware of the VA investigation but does not know the findings, according to a statement from his office.

“Rep. Kelly has had concerns about the project since the beginning,” the statement said. “Regarding the specific findings, we will give the (inspector general's) office time to do its job and see what it reports.”

Trib Total Media staff writer Jason Cato contributed to this report. Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.