Whistleblower: For Love or Money?
Two weeks ago, we previewed the federal case Susan Heath v. Dallas/Fort Worth International, in which the former environmental affairs analyst at D/FW alleges that airport officials covered up information that the airport's industrial waste water and storm water system "grossly violated the Clean Water Act and Texas Water Code" as far back as 1992. That's when the airport began an expansion involving two new runways, two terminals, more than 400 acres of parking and other necessary additions. Heath says the airport fudged its reports in order to obtain federal grants--some $156 million worth. As expected, the trial began last week in U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn's courtroom downtown, and according to most reports, it's been slow going--"glacial," as Lynn puts it here. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram also reports that the trial is less about what the airport might and might not have done to pollute the adjacent water systems and more about how much money Heath might get should the jury find the airport at fault. As Bryon Okada reported on Friday:
"The D/FW attorneys implied that Susan Heath's lawsuit is a grab for money...
If D/FW loses the case, which Heath brought in 1999 in the name of the federal government, some or all of that money must be returned to the government, with Heath rewarded a percentage of the recovery as whistle-blower... The strong day of cross-examination ended with Beane asking Heath to estimate how much of the recovered federal grant money she might receive. Heath guessed between nothing and $6 million, depending on how much money had to be returned. Then an oblique question about Heath consulting a financial planner--unanswered--presaged a slew of objections from the Heath camp should [D/FW's attorney] continue that line of inquiry Monday morning."
But late Friday, Unfair Park received this unsolicited endorsement of Heath from a former boss of hers, Don Higginbotham, who has this to say:
"Several years ago Susan Heath worked for me at the Vought Aircraft Company doing wastewater sampling. This was prior to her employment at D/FW, and I was the manager of Environmental Affairs at the Vought company. I considered then that Miss Heath was a very capable Environmental Scientist with the utmost of honesty and integrity. That is still my opinion of her today."
Vought does confirm both Higginbotham and Heath worked there in the 1990s. The trial resumed today, and attorneys on both sides expect it to be wrapped up some time next week--because in this day and age, a glacial pace doesn't necessarily mean slow. Ask Al Gore. --Robert Wilonsky