A lawsuit makes a strong case that J.E. Dunn Construction Company rebuilt downtown with little help from minority businesses 

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Discovery in the Diaz case has turned up paperwork supporting Rodriguez' assertion that his chief contribution to the Block project was his minority status.

On February 25, 2006, Rodriguez sent an invoice to Dunn for $16,630. On the same day, Rodriguez Electrical and R.F. Fisher jointly invoiced $789,140.

Copies of checks indicate that R.F. Fisher deposited the big-dollar payments from Dunn. In the case file are checks from R.F. Fisher to Rodriguez in various amounts (none larger than $30,000), at times coinciding with Dunn's payments to the "joint" venture.

Dunn's lawyer, Jim Sullivan, tells The Pitch that Dunn knew R.F. Fisher was working with Rodriguez. Sullivan says the checks were made out to both companies on some occasions because Dunn "wanted to make sure that Rodriguez paid its subcontractor." Sullivan says this is standard practice.

As for the fax, Sullivan says there is no evidence that it isn't genuine. Sullivan says the fax agrees with a stack of documents in which Rodriguez (or at least his signature) reports to Dunn on the status of the project.

The Hispanic contractors insist that Rodriguez, who hasn't talked to Dunn's and Block's lawyers, much less the media, told the truth when he said he was fronting for a white contractor. Moreover, they say, Rodriguez was not alone in lending his ethnicity (or gender, as the case may be) to the Block development.

H&R Block, the developer of record, filed paperwork on August 31, 2006, indicating that minority- and women-owned businesses performed $26.4 million worth of the construction work. The amount represented 20 percent of the construction costs. Diaz and his lawyer, Scott Hofer, said Block overstated minority participation by $11.5 million.

Diaz and Hofer came up with that figure by scrutinizing the minority-utilization reports against the checks Dunn Construction had written to various vendors. They claim that the woman-owned Gateway Building Products (Jane Weiland, president) served as a pass-through for a steel company that received $2.7 million.

Another woman-owned business, Eg-Tech, supposedly supplied $1.4 million in switchgear. Diaz and Hofer assert that Eg-Tech is an engineering consultant, not a supplier, and that Capital Electric actually performed the work. (Indeed, Eva Hernandez runs Eg-Tech out of her bungalow in the West Plaza neighborhood. She and Weiland declined comment.)

Block reported paying DELL Plaster & Drywall $621,534. Lowell Dixon, the owner of DELL, came forward a year later (much as Rodriguez had done) and stated in an affidavit that a majority contractor, Total Interiors, had told him what to bid and had added materials to his contract. Dixon said he was paid $202,712. (Dixon did not return calls.)

Gabe Perez, a member of the Hispanic contractors group, says Dunn hired some of the minority businesses knowing that they'd be handling invoices and not much else. Perez calls Rodriguez Electrical a "one-man shop." Yet it wound up with a multimillion-dollar contract.

"That's like hiring a deck guy to put the Sprint Center up," he says. "Come on."


Alex Harris pulls a yellowed newspaper clipping from a desk drawer. It's an advertisement for Ray Harris & Sons, a contracting business. Harris began working for his father at age 9. "I couldn't play football or basketball because my father had me hanging wallpaper," Harris says.

Today Harris is in his late 70s, and he continues to work, running a not-for-profit agency that assists small construction companies. The National Association of Construction Contractors Co-operation is headquartered near 63rd Street and Oak. Harris works at a desk underneath a crumbling drop ceiling. An argyle sweater hangs loosely from his shoulders.

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