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Idaho’s environment department tries to recover costs from school bus emissions scam

State Department of Environmental Quality officials are headed to court to recover the costs of school buses damaged by former contractors who pleaded guilty in 2010 to defrauding the state.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is headed back to court over the school bus emissions contracting debacle that landed a formed DEQ project manager in the federal penitentiary.

This time, the state agency is attempting to recover at least $175,000 from the company it hired to install emissions control devices on school buses in districts across the state, according to a lawsuit filed in Ada County District Court June 1.

The company, Emission Control Systems Inc., was owned by Karen Damberg Garcia, whose husband was the manager of DEQ’s school bus emissions program.

Damberg Garcia submitted a bid to the state agency for work installing the emissions control devices, promising their mechanics were trained with “over 100 years combined experience working on diesel school buses,” according to the lawsuit.

Instead, the company hired a mechanic with little experience and the emissions control devices were installed incorrectly, causing the school buses to sustain significant engine damage.

Damberg Garcia and her husband, Jorge Garcia, pleaded guilty to fraud charges after the scheme was uncovered, and Garcia was sentenced to 30 months in a federal penitentiary in June 2011, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release. Damberg Garcia was sentenced to five years probation and ten years of electronic monitoring.

The company had made more than $330,000 off the state contract after lying in its contract bid. Garcia used his position as project manager to avoid state oversight that may have caught onto the scam sooner or prevented it altogether.

Deputy Attorney General Darrell Early, who is representing the DEQ in the new civil lawsuit, said in an interview the lawsuit was filed after the company had a chance to enter into an agreement for repayment of the damage caused to the school buses.

“We offered the company an opportunity to present the department with a plan to mitigate these losses,” he said, adding that the company did not respond.

Idaho Business Review attempts to reach Damberg Garcia were unsuccessful.

The state DEQ reimbursed more than a dozen school districts for 75 percent of the bus repairs,  which included removing and re-installing the emissions control devices, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit asks for that money back from the company, as well as attorney fees.

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