One-time FBI mole claims retaliation by DeKalb County government

Back in the day, I got in my share of fights. But I wouldn’t have tangled with the likes of Alessandro Salvo. The dude’s crazy.

I mean that in the best, most complimentary way.

You might remember Salvo: he was the construction contractor called in by desperate county water crews last July to help plug a mega-leak that had half of DeKalb County not showering for a weekend. You also might recall the county tried blaming him for the leak not getting fixed quickly because, well, someone had to be blamed.

So, nearly four months later, it’s not surprising that Salvo, the CEO of GS Construction, still hasn’t been paid nearly half of the $53,000 he says he is owed.

Also, he went to court last month to win a $1.6 million contract he claims the county is trying to keep him from getting.

Why is that?

“Continued retaliation from DeKalb County,” he is quick to say.

It’s a charge he’s made before a couple years ago — that time, he’d been helping the FBI catch cagey inspectors. And last time he made the charge, it rang true.

This time, Salvo said, county officials didn’t like how he screamed bloody murder when he was blamed for the slow response on the water main break last summer. The break of a 48-inch water main near Tucker had large swaths of DeKalb out of water for two days and all 700,000 residents boiling it.

A week ago, before going public and complaining about not getting paid, Salvo told me, “I have held back in order to not ruffle feathers much.”

It was unlike him. After he appeared on a couple TV news shows, the county started paying attention to him.

On Thursday, county spokesman Burke Brennan said GS Construction would receive the “lion’s share” of its bill while other charges were being vetted.

“We are not going to pay for expenses that are not verified.” he said. “We have a responsibility to the taxpayers.”

A couple hours later, DeKalb notified Salvo he’d get $28,000. He grumbled it “only covered my costs. No profit nor premium for an emergency 72-straight-hour weekend response, nor dealing with their BS.”

Earlier, Brennan asked me whether I was going to write about every time DeKalb is slow in paying a vendor. Brennan is a good guy with perhaps the toughest job in town — coming out smiling each day to face media and talk about DeKalb. Actually, he doesn’t smile that much. I told him Salvo is not like all other contractors; he has a built-in news hook.

Back in 2011, Salvo and his father went to the FBI and then worked undercover to snag a couple of crooked Public Works inspectors. The inspectors initially threatened to shut down their construction job and then wanted to conspire with the Salvos to file phony work orders.

The feds called the father-son team “good Samaritan confidential sources.” Others in DeKalb, no doubt, called them worse.

Salvo soon ran into problems. In 2012, he was low bidder on a big project to replace water lines, but his bid was tossed out on a clerical error and the work was awarded to companies that had bid $274,000 more. He appealed the decision to then-director Kelvin Walton, the unindicted co-conspirator and star witness in the CEO Burrell Ellis corruption case. Walton, Salvo said, told him to go scratch.

DeKalb Judge Linda Hunter later ordered the work go back to Salvo, noting the clerical error was harmless and the county’s action “violates the competitive bid law, does not follow the statutory process, and frustrates the purpose of protecting the public coffers from waste and assuring that taxpayers receive quality work for the lowest price.”

This time in court, Salvo is claiming the retaliation started with his stint as an FBI mole and continues today. He noted that after the July fiasco, DeKalb repeatedly sent a safety inspector to a GS Construction job site in Dunwoody “to harass our crews and stop them from working.”

In court papers, Salvo notes his company this year bid $1.6 million to build a sewer lift station in DeKalb, $8,500 less than Soco Contracting, a firm located near Tucker. But in the evaluation process, the county graded Soco as a Local Small Business Enterprise (LSBE), knocking off 10 percent of the company’s bid price before then adding that money back after the contract was awarded. The effort “artificially” lowers bid, Salvo’s lawyers argue.

Soco’s president told me he’d have to talk with his lawyer before calling back. I didn’t hear from him again.

Brennan, the county spokesman, said LSBEs are weighted differently from other bidders but could say nothing more because of pending litigation.

Viola Davis, who heads a DeKalb watchdog group, said it’s “extremely unusual” for a contractor to complain publicly. “There’s a lot of ways people in local government can bankrupt a company. Number one, they can not pay you. Or they can take away work.”

Once in a blue moon, her organization gets calls about alleged malfeasance from subcontractors, “but Mr. Salvo is the first prime contractor to step forward. They have a lot more to lose. But if we didn’t have contractors like Mr. Salvo speak out, we wouldn’t expose the extortion and bribery. It helps with the efficiency and effectiveness of government.”

I asked Salvo whether he worries about being the squeaky wheel.

Why worry any more than he does? he responded. “They take away jobs. They don’t pay us. They call OSHA on us for nothing. How much worse can it get?”

He then paused and laughed, “Well, I guess they could assassinate me out there on the job.”

The county is in the midst of a sweeping $1.35 billion water and sewer capital improvement program. (Incidentally, the first big-ticket item had to be redone for sloppy work.) If you’re in the business, DeKalb is where the work is.

“I’m a resident; why should I let the work go to someone else?” he said. “There’s no better guardian than me.”

“Plus,” he added. “I have to drink the damn water.”