My astonishing call from a sobbing Pentagon Attorney 25 years ago.
In the late eighties, I won a landmark legal decision in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after initially losing at the district court level. I had sued the Pentagon under the Freedom of Information Act to force them to release the subcontracting reports on three of the nation’s largest defense contractors; Northrop, McDonnell Douglas and Loral. After receiving the documents, as I suspected, the actual subcontracting dollars awarded to small business by these Pentagon prime contractors was less than three percent, nowhere near the twenty percent required by law at that time.
In the court’s ruling, they stated my lawsuit was “consistent with the Congressional intent of passing both the Freedom of Information Act and the Small Business Act and would in general encourage government contractors to set higher small and small disadvantaged business subcontracting goals.” I’m very proud that thousands of small businesses around the country benefited from that legal battle. My legal fees had been in the neighborhood of $150,000 over the three years it took to finally win the case.
When you win a Freedom of Information Act case against the federal government, they have to reimburse you for your legal fees. A few days after the 9th Circuit released their ruling in my favor, I received a call from a Pentagon attorney I had talked with earlier regarding my original Freedom of Information Act request. He sounded like he was probably in his mid-thirties, and based on his accent, he sounded like he was from somewhere in the south. I was surprised when he told me I should be “proud of myself” and that the success of the lawsuit would “help out a lot of people”. He said, “Lets get to work to get your legal fees back.” He explained how we needed to compile our legal bills and submit them to get our legal fees back. We had a very nice cordial conversation and I remember thinking, “Well that was easy.”
About three days later he called me back. I will remember that phone call until the day I die. He was crying uncontrollably and his voice was quivering so dramatically he could hardly talk. He was gasping for air like a child that was trying to talk as they cried. Every few words, he would make a kind of a gasping honking sound as he gasped for air. The picture I had in my mind was like a scene from a movie. I pictured him tied in a chair, his face bleeding and swollen with someone holding a gun to his head.
Based on the cadence of his voice he was clearly reading off of a statement someone was forcing him to read to me over the phone. As opposed to his congratulatory, congenial style of our last conversation, he said, “If you think you’re going to get your money back, you’ve got another thing coming.” As he read the prepared statement about every three or four words he was sobbing heavily and gasping for air. He continued, “You haven’t won anything. You’re going to have to go to court for every piece of paper you get from the Pentagon.” He hung up. I was shocked, stunned, confused and slightly traumatized myself.
What on earth had happened to this poor guy to prompt him to make such a bazaar phone call? This was an attorney for the Pentagon!
Luckily, I had a great relationship with both of my Senators here in California, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein. They had a good relationship with Attorney General Janet Reno. With the help of Senators Boxer and Feinstein, the government eventually reimbursed me for the majority of my legal fees. Before we deposited the check I had it enlarged and framed. It’s still on the wall in the office to this day.
The Pentagon attorney was right about having to go to court to get any information from the Pentagon on federal small business contracting. I have lost count, but I’m guessing I have won around 30 legal battles with the Pentagon and other federal agencies, forcing the release of thousands of pages of documents. In every case the information I uncovered was more evidence that the federal government’s entire small business contracting program is smoke and mirrors. The truth is that most federal small business contracts are actually going to many of the largest corporate giants in the world. In 2012, 235 Fortune 500 firms received federal small business contracts. (link)
Luckily, I have been able to get over dozens of stories about this rampant fraud in federal small business contracting on national television, radio, virtually every major newspaper in the country and on hundreds of blogs and articles online. (video)
By the way that was not the only or last time I would see and hear government attorneys sobbing as they unsuccessfully struggled to cover up hundreds of billions of dollars in blatant fraud against American small businesses.
I have started working with a film crew on a short documentary. My goal is to find that poor fellow and get him on video explaining what in the hell happened to him that would explain that astonishing phone call 25 years ago.