Democratic candidate for governor of South Carolina, James Smith, was denied eligibility to a Veterans Affairs (VA) program meant to help disabled veterans, after he did not cooperate with an inspection of his business, which has previously received special privileges based on Smith’s veteran status, according to the Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF).
Smith has allegedly misused his disabled-veteran status in order for his business to reap the rewards by clandestinely passing the work obtained by the veteran status to companies completely unaffiliated with veterans.
Smith founded his company, The Congaree Group, in 2011. Since then, it has received millions via government work, spanning across the board from pharmaceutical services and medical supplies to valet parking and data analytics.
In May, VA officials visited the company for a surprise inspection, VA deputy assistant Secretary James Hutton told the DCNF.
The point of the inspection was to determine if Smith was using Congaree as a middleman group to pass off money-making federal contracts — intended for veterans — to non-veteran companies, all while pocketing a nice profit for himself. These kinds of corrupt maneuvers are obviously forbidden by the VA.
But Smith’s company refused to cooperate with the inspection and didn’t give them any evidence that the business was lawful or provide requested documents, Hutton told the DCNF.
Therefore, the VA banned the company in July, one month after Smith snagged the spot as the Democratic candidate for governor.
As reported by The Post and Courier, Smith said on Monday that he “didn’t have time to produce business documents requested by inspectors while running his campaign for governor.”
Apparently, he plans to close his company anyway if he wins next month’s election.
Questions about misuse of the business’ veteran owned status first arose in 2013, The Post and Courier reports. A complaint alleged that Smith used veteran-intended benefits to obtain lucrative contracts but then passed the work on to non-veterans, enjoying a cut of the ill-gotten gains for himself.
Smith said that the allegation was groundless, according to The Post and Courier. Nevertheless, the U.S Department of Veteran Affairs thought the matter warranted temporarily suspending Congaree.
The 2013 audit shows that the VA found that “it appears that (Smith) uses his (disabled veteran) status to secure VA set-aside contracts and pass the performance of such contracts to various non-Veteran entities. Such conduct is prohibited.”
The audit claimed that Smith did “not have the specialty skills required to perform on several of the contracts he has secured.”
“It is reasonable to conclude that the Congaree Group functions as a middleman to enable various non-Veteran entities like BDI Pharma to secure the actual contract,” the audit reads. It ruled Congaree ineligible for the Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) program.
While Congaree’s website has since removed the damning language, an archived version of the webpage shows that it once advertised the ability to make “strategic alliances” that would help meet “government mandates” that gave contracts to disabled veterans.
The company claimed that if an outside company wants a government contract, it should work with Congaree.
“The Congaree Group, Congaree Pharma, has the ability through our Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) designation to broker the government contracts that will ensure your company’s future stronghold in the marketplace,” Congaree’s website once read.
The VA eventually reinstated the company after Smith appealed.
Since the company’s reinstatement, it has been quite remunerative for Smith. He has said that he earned $151,000 from the enterprise last year, which makes up more than 40 percent of his family’s total $357,000 income, The Post and Courier reports.
Smith’s company now fulfills a range of services, such as parking cars and conducting high-tech data analysis. As recently as March of this year, the VA planned to give the business a valet-parking contract at a hospital in Augusta, Georgia.
A spokesperson for the Charleston VA, Erin Curran, told the Post and Courier that Congaree supplied valet work in Charleston through last year, bringing in nearly $1.3 million on the contract.
The DCNF reported that a disabled veteran with expertise in automobile services complained to them that he was unable to get work at the VA because non-veterans had been given the work via Congaree.
If Smith were just pulling a stolen valor scam, that would be bad enough. But he’s actively been hurting the job prospects of disabled veterans for his own monetary profit. These kind of sick “rent-a-vet” scams do nothing but make it harder for genuine service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses to receive help.
And Smith has the audacity to run for the governorship when this kind of corruption should absolutely disqualify him from the political arena. Someone who looks at a program meant to help those who sacrificed to defend America and tries to pervert it for his own benefit has no business working in the government.
If Smith really wants to serve the people, he should focus on helping those who get disrespected and mistreated after serving in the military … rather than being the one doing the disrespecting and mistreating.
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