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I-TEAM UPDATE: Fort Gordon housing inquiry shines light on problem

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 11:25 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Our I-TEAM is keeping a close eye on the potential ripple effect of this week’s testimony on Capitol Hill about the condition of military housing at Fort Gordon.

We don’t know if the Department of Justice will take action or if Congress will get involved. But we do know those in Washington with the power to do something about it are no longer in the dark.

For more than a decade now, we’ve done more than show you the photos. We told you the stories of mold exposure. The baby who stopped breathing. The little boy rushed to the ER. The woman placed on a national health registry.

Behind every work order and complaint is a local family who deserves better.

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…shame on me.”

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson stated what seems to be so obvious after our I-TEAM has been exposing problems for more than 11 years, affecting the health and safety of Fort Gordon families.

Sen. Jon Ossoff: “Why should we believe a company engaged in major fraud against the United States is fixing this?”

Ossoff is the chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, doesn’t believe the private company in charge of housing at more than 55 military installations across the country can be trusted.

Ossoff has been looking into Balfour Beatty for the past eight months. Like our I-TEAM, he recognized a pattern.

Meredith Anderson: “How much of our reporting did you review and use?”

EARLIER COVERAGE:

Ossoff: “We reviewed the work that you’ve done over the last decade, calling attention to this issue. And I commend you and your team for that investigative work because you have been shining a spotlight on this at times when it didn’t seem like folks at the federal level cared.”

For years, Balfour Beatty worked to discredit our work, and just this week, we learned the heartbreaking result of that.

Capt. Samuel Choe: “Her skin, once supple, is now reptilian in nature.”

Choe is the soldier, but his daughter is the one with battle scars. While he was fighting for freedom, he testified a different enemy attacked his little girl in their Lakeview Terrace home on Fort Gordon.

He told the subcommittee multiple doctors concluded mold exposure gave her a potentially fatal skin condition. Choe almost didn’t move his family on post because he watched our I-TEAM reports online in 2019.

He says he showed them to Balfour Beatty leaders to get their response.

Meredith: “They said, ‘Oh, it won’t be like that?’”

Choe: “Correct. I was told that type of reporting affected a type of change internally within Balfour Beatty, and that going forward, there will be different business practices that will be implemented to ensure that does not repeat again for the foreseeable future.”

Choe says he believed what we exposed had to bring about change, so he believed Balfour Beatty.

Choe: “Which is ironic, because I think out of all the cases that we’ve heard, my daughter’s is the most severe.”

He’s now stationed in South Korea and flew 7,000 miles to testify. He wanted to talk to us, hoping other families will see his story.

Choe: “By all means, please continue your efforts because if you don’t, then others will suffer from the lack of someone champion their cause.”

The true credit goes to the soldiers and their families who, for years, trusted the I-TEAM with their stories. Over the years, so many told us they were afraid.

Afraid speaking out might affect their career or that their landlord Balfour Beatty would retaliate in some way. In the end, those who spoke out said they wanted to help others, and a decade later, that’s exactly what Senator Jon Ossoff found when he was investigating.

Ossoff: “Your work, and the honesty, and the emotion with which the military families in the Augusta area asked me to take action is what led us to this moment where we have now some of the highest-profile attention at the federal level, shining on this issue.”

A light – after so much darkness for so many families. It’s especially important for Captain Choe to make sure his daughter is in the brightest spotlight possible. Before he testified Tuesday, he spoke with her by phone.

Choe: “This is for you. I want you to know that everyone will know your story. And they’ll know what you have suffered and how patient you have been. To which she responded to me. ‘Avenge me, daddy.’ I will do my best.”

I asked Choe if he was able to get any help from Fort Gordon leaders, and he said it was the opposite. He said Fort Gordon’s Garrison Commander, Colonel Shaw Pick, did not believe housing caused his daughter’s condition, and he says that’s part of the problem.

We reached out to Fort Gordon but was told: “All responses on this issue are being fielded at the highest level, the office of the chief of public affairs.”

We sent a request for an interview but have not heard back

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to award Balfour Beatty contracts. Just last week, they secured a $698 million deal at Fort Meade. Still, no word when construction is set to begin on a new neighborhood on Fort Gordon. Crews were originally supposed to break ground last summer.

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