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City secures ruling against contractor

August 04, 2005

Dave Brooks

City officials have secured a $2.4-million judgment against a

contractor who abandoned a city recreation project after taking off

with nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds.

In a July 29 hearing, arbitrator David B. Moon ordered Joseph

O'Connor to repay the advances he received to build a recreation

facility at the city's sports complex, pay off the debt the city

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incurred and make up nearly 2 1/2 years of lost revenue.

It remains unclear whether the city will ever be able to recover

any money from O'Connor, who is in the throes of bankruptcy. In an

e-mail to Assistant City Atty. Scott Field, O'Connor described his

dire financial situation.

"Since I have personally suffered serious financial reversals due

to this, including losing all ownership rights to my home and had my

car repossessed," he wrote in a July 26 e-mail, "I now essentially

have zero assets and have limped along trying to reorganize in a way

where we could be financially responsible. With great difficulty and

much soul searching, I have had to move forward with a Chapter 7

bankruptcy for myself and my wife."

In the same letter, O'Connor described a possible settlement

scenario to repay the taxpayer money, estimating that he could repay

the city within two to three years. Under the proposal, O'Connor

would continue to offer consulting services to various municipalities

looking to build recreation facilities. If the city would act as a

reference, he wrote, O'Connor would be willing to repay the city over

time with a substantial portion of his consulting fees.

The deal would also require the city to settle its lawsuit --

O'Connor said that the pending lawsuit against him makes it difficult

to find new work.

City Atty. Jennifer McGrath said she was skeptical about any type

of settlement offer from O'Connor.

"I'm not saying that we aren't willing to look at getting the

taxpayer's money back," she said. "I'm just not very comfortable that

it is a viable option. It doesn't seem to me like something he can

do."

When city officials hired O'Connor in 2003 to build and operate

batting cages, roller hockey rinks and soccer fields, they had no

idea of his abysmal performance record. O'Connor was the lead

contractor behind failed sports complexes in two Pacific Northwestern

cities and was successfully sued by a Kalamazoo soccer-club owner for

abandoning a similar project. That club's owner, Chris Keegan, even

petitioned an Oregon judge for an arrest warrant for O'Connor when he

failed to show up for court.

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