Startup Working on Trump's Border Wall Linked to Firm With Murky Legal Past

A small startup that received the first contract within President Donald Trump's border wall construction project has been linked to potentially wrongful billing and payment practices.

The Nebraska-based startup SWF Constructors is owned by the New York firm Coastal Environmental Group, which has been sued for not paying subcontractors, according to an AP report. Among the lawsuits were cases in 2011 and 2014 in which the federal government sued the firm on behalf of subcontractors. Those separate subcontractors were allegedly not paid for labor and equipment on projects that included a lead contamination cleanup and the construction of concrete docks.

Both lawsuits were settled in 2015, according to the AP.

The U.S. Department of the Interior also audited Coastal Environmental Group's billing practices after it completed work for the Fish and Wildlife Service during the cleanup after Superstorm Sandy, which hit the Atlantic coast in 2012, but allegedly did not offer supporting documentation like timesheets and invoices while billing the federal agency, the AP said.

SWF Constructors won its federal contract, worth $18 million, in the fall and was meant to do work on a California section of fencing that already exists, adding new barriers to the 2.25-mile stretch in Calexico.

That work began February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported at the time. It focuses on replacing a barricade made largely from metal scraps and putting in thick, 30-foot-high posts described as being in the style of bollards.

When the work kicked off, the Washington Post reported it could take about 300 days to complete.

While Coastal Environmental Group's website says the firm's headquarters are in Edgewood, N.Y., it also has five other offices listed, including one in Omaha.

Thomas Anderson, a lawyer from Omaha who has represented a subcontractor that once sued the firm, said Coastal Environmental Group could have used the startup as a way to get a contract without its former legal issues coming up.

"If you kick up a little dust on the trail, it makes the trail harder to follow," he told the AP.

A border patrol agent stands guard in Calexico, California, where a construction company is now doing work to replace a section of the wall along the Mexico border. SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP/Getty Images