A botched job of terror-proofing the new Kosciuszko Bridge has left its cables vulnerable to attack — and bumbling contractors even posted information online that all but provides a blueprint for would-be bombers, a blockbuster suit alleges.
Meanwhile, preventable “aggressive corrosion” of the shielding that’s supposed to protect the span’s 112 cables could cause them to break on their own — or send the metal-and-concrete armor tumbling onto the heavily trafficked overpass connecting Brooklyn and Queens, the court papers claim.
“These failings create a severe and imminent threat to public safety, the implications of which cannot be overstated,” according to the suit.
The alarming claims are part of a suit brought by Maryland-based armor manufacturing company Hardwire LLC alleging theft of trade secrets by its former vice president and program manager of bridge security, Irvin “Skip” Ebaugh IV.
The FBI has an active and ongoing criminal investigation into the alleged rip-off and Ebaugh’s work on the Kosciuszko or “K Bridge,” according to the suit Hardwire filed last month in Baltimore federal court.
The suit seeks more than $39.6 million in damages from Ebaugh and his company, Infrastructure Armor LLC, for allegedly using Hardwire’s technology to underbid the firm and win a contract for the Kosciuszko job — without having the expertise to properly manufacture and install the cable shields.
“As a result, Ebaugh and IA’s armor work at the K Bridge is critically flawed and creates a severe and imminent danger to the public and those that use and work on the bridge spans,” the suit charges.
Ebaugh — who was served with the suit at a Hooters restaurant near his home in Ocean City, Md. — is accused of stealing a notebook and thumb drive from Hardwire when he was fired in February 2013 for “aggressive and arrogant behaviors toward other employees,” including founder and CEO George Tunis III and his wife, company president and COO Emily Tunis.
Although George Tunis and other Hardwire executives tried to physically prevent the theft, Ebaugh “broke free with the thumb drive and ran out” of the company’s Pocomoke City headquarters in Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, the suit says.
Hardwire was founded in 2000 to retrofit buildings’ earthquake protection, but shifted its focus following the Sept. 11 terror attacks to developing armor for military and law-enforcement vehicles — including those of the NYPD — as well as bridges and other critical US infrastructure.
Hardwire, was “continually awarded sole-source contracts for bridge security” from 2005 until Ebaugh formed IA in April 2014 and began competing with his former employer, court papers say.
The following August, the suit says, Hardwire and two corporate partners were underbid for the job of installing and armoring the cables on the first of the Kosciuszko Bridge’s new dual spans — part of the state Department of Transportation’s $873 million project to replace the original bridge that opened in 1939.
The original, six-lane Kosciuszko carried around 163,000 vehicles a day in 2016, before being replaced with two spans in 2017 and 2019 that have five and four lanes, respectively.
The cable work was awarded to Freyssinet Inc., a subsidiary of the French VINCI Construction company — which is identified in the suit but is not a defendant. Freyssinet hired Ebaugh and IA to handle the armoring on the first span, and the team got a no-bid contract for the second to ensure it “looked the same,” the suit says.
But Hardwire claims in its suit that Ebaugh and IA “failed to implement critical details in the manufacturing and installation process” it perfected.
One example cited in court papers involved Ebaugh allegedly using a “specific type of metal in the interior of the parts” without painting it first — as required by state Department of Transportation specifications — to prevent corrosion when it comes into contact with the concrete used to reinforce the shields.
In addition, Ebaugh allegedly also used “inferior galvanized steel” that’s “touching other dissimilar metallic parts” and “creating hot spots for corrosion.”
The suit claims that “aggressive corrosion is already visible on the K Bridge armor,” some of which which is “severely splitting, delaminating [fracturing], and is in danger of falling off.”
“Not only does this present a clear and present danger, but the armor is not providing its intended protection,” Hardwire alleges in the suit.
“The large seam created through the severe delamination and separation of the parts leaves significant vulnerabilities for the bridge cable. This is counter to the entire purpose of armoring the bridge in the first place.”
Hardwire’s suit features a series of color photos, shot in July 2019 and January 2020, that the company claims shows the various defects on armor that was waiting to be installed and on sleeves in place on the bridge.
The state DOT called the claims in the suit “categorically false,” “entirely untrue” and “baseless allegations from people who have never inspected [the bridge].”
“All the materials used to build the bridge as well as the bridge itself have been regularly inspected and deemed compliant with all safety standards at every stage of the construction process by reputable, independent engineering firms and they determined the bridge is without a doubt safe,” DOT Chief Engineer Wahid Albert said.
Albert said that the “aluminum surface” in the shields was painted prior to being put in contact with concrete and that an “independent third party inspector certified that it was built to specifications with photo documentation.”
“Any defects found in the materials used to construct the bridge were rejected or repaired before being installed – and the bridge is regularly inspected, as are all bridges in the state, and it is 100 percent safe,” he said.
Albert also disputed the claim regarding the shields splitting, saying, “The gap is by design in order to drain moisture that collects inside the shielding and has nothing to do in any way with the safety of the shields, cable or bridge itself.”
The DOT also released a Friday letter in which HNTB New York Engineering and Architecture — which designed the bridge — said that an inspection of the first span last year resulted in “a 7 rating (on a scale of 1 to 7 with 7 being new condition).”
“Based on HNTB’s inspection, no conditions were observed that would impact the performance of the bridge as designed to safely carry vehicular loads,” project manager Seth Medwick added.
Hardwire CEO George Tunis said his company “stands behind the facts in its complaint.”
It also alleges the construction issues are not the only troubling element of Ebaugh’s work.
To tout their work, Ebaugh and Freyssinet created promotional material that was posted online, where Hardwire says it has compromised the bridge’s security.
In an online video, Ebaugh “brazenly” revealed “detailed armor design elements, key materials used in the armor recipe, blast testing methods and results, and installation methods” of the cable armor, the suit says.
“Worse yet, with Ebaugh, Freyssinet published a technical paper at an international conference and posted the publication on its website that publicly discloses that the K Bridge has armor protection installed and explicitly describes the level of protection, the armor performance, and potential threats to the bridge,” Hardwire alleges.
The paper also “contains photographs from IA that reveal test methods, how to place specific threats around the cable, and the aftermath of the test,” all of which “reveal critically sensitive security information and constitute a clear violation of security and confidentiality protocols,” according to the company.
Hardwire contacted the FBI in part over worries that Ebaugh had stolen “information related to national security infrastructure issues” in the days leading to his firing, and the bureau raided his home in January 2016, the suit says.
The investigation determined that Ebaugh swiped more than 27,000 electronic files — including technical data, bridge armor designs and “security sensitive information about bridges across the US” — and also trespassed on Hardwire property on Jan. 1, 2015, and took photos of the company’s “proprietary technology and hardware,” court papers say.
“Ebaugh’s photographs clearly appear to have focused on certain attachment methods and design features for bridge armor … that were missing from the 27,000 stolen electronic files,” the suit says.
Ebaugh told The Post he “vehemently” denied the allegations in the suit but didn’t feel comfortable discussing them because, “I’m currently not represented by counsel.”
He also said that “only very recently did I become aware of any issues,” adding, “I’m looking forward to working with the state to understand what’s going on.”
Hours earlier, he acted as his own attorney to file a blanket denial of every claim against him and IA, which resulted in a Thursday court order that said a local rule barred him from representing his company because he’s not a licensed attorney.
Chief Judge James Bredar gave IA until March 19 to have a lawyer file an answer to the Hardwire suit “or the Clerk shall enter an Order of Default” against the company.
Neither Freyssinet nor its parent company, VINCI, returned repeated requests for comment.
The FBI declined to comment.
Additional reporting by Reuven Fenton
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