Army probes Lenoir City firm

EOD Technology awaits military ruling on contract blacklisting

By Andrew Eder
Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Lenoir City military contractor is in danger of being blackballed from federal contracts after one of its managers in Iraq allegedly used his intimate relationship with an Air Force contracting officer to win millions of dollars worth of work.

In a Sept. 14 letter, the U.S. Army informed EOD Technology Inc., a munitions disposal and security services company, that it was considering debarment of the company, an administrative procedure that would put EODT on the federal government's blacklist. The "show cause" letter asks EODT for information demonstrating that the company is a "responsible contractor."

The move stems from the conduct of Eric W. Barton, the company's former deputy manager in Iraq, who according to an Army investigation helped secure about $2.5 million in convoy-security contracts for EODT in a three-month period, thanks in part to inside information from Air Force Capt. Sherrie Remington, a contracting officer.

A number of interviews by investigators, along with e-mail messages between Barton and Remington, suggest the two began an extramarital affair at one of EODT's all-night, alcohol-fueled "business development" parties at EODT's compound in the International Zone in Baghdad.

One EODT employee, Mark McCloskey, said Barton approached him on Jan. 6, 2006, after one of the parties.

"Eric came to me, drunk, with documents in hand, bragging that he had all the awarded prices of the BPA (blanket purchase agreement) contracts," McCloskey said in a sworn statement to investigators. "He told me, 'Sherrie, the KO (contracting officer), hooked me up.' The documents listed mission details, date of movement, route to use, type of cargo to be moved, assets requirement, specific instructions for the contract, and the names of the points of contact at the pick-up and drop-off locations.

"The key element Eric had with the documents was the dollar amount Sherrie (Remington) hand wrote on them, which was the amount the U.S. government paid on each contract," McCloskey continued. "With this information, Eric knew what to bid on for future contracts."

McCloskey told investigators that he went into Barton's office and made copies of the documents, which appear as exhibits in the investigative file.

Between Jan. 23 and March 4, 2006, Remington awarded EODT seven contracts. She raised the price on six of the seven contracts, in two cases more than doubling the payment to the company, according to Army figures. In all, EODT brought in more than $2.5 million from the convoy-security work.

An anonymous EODT employee brought the matter to the Army's attention through a crime tip hotline, according to the investigative file. The employee told investigators that EODT management turned a blind eye to the affair.

"On more than one occasion I brought up the questionable acts of my co-workers, especially the drunken parties on the roof and was told to '...stay in my lane,'" the employee said. "I still continued to voice my concerns on several issues, some not related to the BPA, and was later sent out to a site, I suspect to remove me from the scene of activity."

The relationship between Barton and Remington plays out in e-mails recovered from Remington's computer.

In one e-mail, Remington listed companies bidding for a job, writing at the end, "I will expect full payment tonight!!!" In another, with the subject line "Some nice info," Remington wrote Barton with information about a competitor's difficulties completing a mission, adding that the mission may have to be reassigned.

In another e-mail, Remington referred to a colleague selecting an EODT competitor for a bid: "Kevin awarded both of those missions to TDL ... he will never go to anybody but the low bidder ... he's scared. We will discuss more at lunch. Love you, Sherrie."

After returning home to Utah, Remington sent an e-mail to Barton saying she had set up a special e-mail account for Barton's correspondence. The username on the account was "loveshackiraq."

In a handwritten statement, Remington told investigators that she and Barton had a "close friendship" in Iraq that turned romantic only after the two returned to the United States. She said the information she gave to Barton was for "historical purposes only," and she would release it to any contractor on request.

"Eric has never asked for any bid information and I have never given him any bid information," Remington wrote. She could not be reached for comment.

According to an Army memo, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to bring charges against Remington, Barton or EODT. The memo, dated Aug. 30, said Remington was the subject of a "military justice action" at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

A representative of the Air Force base said Remington's commander "took appropriate action based on the facts of the case and the procedures set out in the Uniform Code of Military Justice" but would not provide further details, citing federal privacy regulations.

Barton admitted to an investigator that he had a "personal intimate relationship" with Remington between December 2005 and her departure from Iraq in March 2006, according to Army documents. He told the investigator that he did not find out Remington was the contracting officer for the convoy-security work until January 2006.

"However, he did not feel that continuing their relationship after he became aware of this fact was an issue and denied receiving any preferential treatment because of it," the Army memo states.

In interviews with USA Today and the San Antonio Express-News, which first reported the story, Barton denied wrongdoing and said he was confident the allegations would be proven false. Barton could not be reached for comment Wednesday at his home in Friendsville, Tenn.

Erik Quist, director of business and legal affairs for EODT, said in an e-mail that Barton resigned from the company after the Army initiated debarment proceedings.

"EODT became aware of the government's inquiry into alleged improper conduct of its employee, Eric W. Barton, approximately a year ago," Quist wrote. "The company was formally contacted by the government about the proposed debarment of Mr. Barton in September 2007. EODT is not a part of the debarment proceeding but has been asked to provide information to the government, which we have done. It would be inappropriate for us to comment while the matter is under review by the Army, so we must defer to them for any further comment at this time."

Army spokesman Dave Foster said the Army's Procurement Fraud Branch is reviewing EODT's response to the Sept. 14 show cause letter.

"No decision has been made by the Army suspension and debarment official regarding the status of the company; however, it has not been suspended or proposed for debarment as a result of the show cause letter," Foster said in an e-mail. "Mr. Barton's submission in response to his 14 September 2007 proposal for debarment is expected this week."

EODT, founded in 1987, does about 95 percent of its work overseas, according to information on its Web site. The company said it has grown about 80 percent annually over the last five years, with 2006 revenues of $186 million. At least four EODT employees have been killed in Iraq.