VA hospital terminates contract with cleaning company when it discovers the owner is a sex offender.
Ezekiel Lopez, a janitorial contractor, secured $700,000 in federal contracts to provide cleaning services at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital near Chicago under his company America’s Best at Work. He was able to do so even though he is a registered child sex offender in Illinois who spent more than three years in prison for sexually abusing two teen girls. Currently, there are no laws preventing predators like Lopez from working with the government.
Contractors are expected to indicate on their applications whether they’ve had any felony convictions within the past two years. However, Lopez did not need to disclose his past because he was convicted more than thirteen years ago, in 2007. The government can also prevent third parties from securing work if they are convicted of felony fraud or similar crimes. However, there are no laws prohibiting sex abusers from doing so.
VA spokesperson Christina Noel said, “The company met the criteria to become a vendor under federal law, which includes being deemed responsible through its registration with the System for Award Management.”
There would have been no red flags suggesting the government shouldn’t work with Lopez. She added, “The vendor also was in good standing with the federal government’s database for performance and integrity.”
In fact, Lopez was a preferred hire because he is a veteran and American Indian. Only after a media outlet began to dig deeper, looking into Lopez’s history, did the VA hospital decide to terminate the contract in late July.
Candace Oliva, a health systems specialist to the hospital director, said, “Nothing questionable had turned up in the vendor’s two-year background check. But after discovering this particular issue, Hines VA Hospital terminated its relationship with the contractor.”
The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act prohibits federal contractors from requesting criminal histories from candidates until a verbal job offer has been extended, and civil rights laws forbid discrimination against applicants with prior criminal records. However, some have suggested that sex offenders shouldn’t be able to secure high-paying public contracts funded by taxpayers. And, at the same time, the state of Illinois prevents sex offenders from working in greater than 100 professions, including at private healthcare facilities.
Police records show Lopez was convicted of criminal sexual abuse and sexual assault on a victim between the ages of 13 and 17. He evidently had intercourse with two teenage girls under his care and was locked up in Illinois state prison from April 2007 through August 2010. He spent two more years on parole.
Once he got out, Lopez’s America’s Best at Work was able to make $139,500 in fiscal year 2014/15. The contractor then earned $108,500 worth of federal contracts in 2015/16. The COVID-19 $700,000 was the largest amount awarded to the contractor thus far. America’s Best at Work is a certified Indian Preference Firm of the Tohono O’odham Nation in Sells, Arizona. Lopez himself served in the U.S. Army from 1989 to 1997.
Benjamin Brunjes, assistant professor at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington, said, “The federal government is worried about the performance and financial solvency of its vendors – not the backgrounds of their owners.”