RANLO, N.C. -- The military promises the company millions in defense contracts.
The company gets help from a key member of Congress, who receives thousands in campaign donations from company execs.
But now, after five years and $15 million of your tax dollars, what about the company's promise to hire hundreds of new workers in Gaston County?
That’s the situation the WCNC Investigators found at Defense Technologies Incorporated -- a Ranlo defense contractor headed locally by John Torbett, who’s also a Gaston County commissioner.
WCNC: “You don't have anybody working here yet.”
Torbett: “We're not making anything yet.”
WCNC: “And I guess the people who live in Gaston County are saying you're not hiring anybody either. When will that happen?”
Torbett: “Gosh, I wish I could just put an absolute date on it. I can't say that today. There’s no way I can say that today.”
On DTI’s website, WCNC found an impressive Star Wars-style mission statement, claiming they “support and protect the war fighter with dominating combat power.”
But their headquarters here in a former textile mill isn't exactly the Pentagon. All WCNC found on the job were a few engineers, in offices along mostly empty hallways, connecting mostly empty laboratories and workshops.
The DTI engineers admit a lot of the parts for the company’s high-tech military research projects come right off the retail shelves at Best Buy and Radio Shack. And after four years of federal funding, the military still hasn't ordered a single one of DTI’s unmanned ground vehicles, or their drone airplanes, or the company’s computer control systems.
Meanwhile, back on their Web site, WCNC also found stories touting a “200 employee” manufacturing plant, bringing “technology jobs” to replace the jobs that struggling Gaston County has lost.
WCNC also asked Torbett, the DTI vice president, about an interview we found posted on line at dtiweb.net, claiming 200 hundred workers are already on the DTI payroll, with 200 more still to be hired, at salaries of $50,000 a year.
Torbett: “I haven’t seen that.”
WCNC: “Yeah, it's on your Web site.”
Torbett: “That one's on our Web site?
WCNC: “Yeah. It's from an interview from Sue Myrick, with a newspaper in Huntersville.”
That same interview, which bragged about hundreds of high-paying DTI jobs that don't actually exist, also turned up on Charlotte Congresswoman Sue Myrick's Web site – after Rep. Myrick helped Defense Technologies win more than $15 million in federal funding since 2003.
Myrick now admits “we made a mistake in saying 200 jobs.”
“Quite frankly,” continued Myrick, “if I went over there and found a bunch of Mercedes and Lexuses parked out front, I'd be a little disturbed. But I think they're being frugal with their money.”
Even though they haven’t hired the people in Gaston County they promised to hire? “Right,” answered Myrick. “Exactly. They (Gaston County) have benefited some, and hopefully they will in the future.”
But WCNC’s search of Federal Election Commission campaign funding records shows Rep. Myrick has benefited from DTI already.
The FEC reports that DTI’s out-of-state president has given the campaign organization Sue Myrick for Congress more than $5,000 over the past four years. The company’s out-of-state chief financial officer has contributed $3,000. And Defense Technologies’ out-of-state vice president gave almost $8,000 in campaign donations to Rep. Myrick, since DTI started getting all that federal funding.
WCNC: “Were they contributors to your campaign before they got those dollars to move to Gaston County?”
Rep. Myrick: “I did not know them before that. No they weren't a contributor, because they weren't in my district… I'm an open book. Everything I do is an open book.”
Meanwhile, “the focus here in Gaston County is still jobs, jobs, jobs.” That's a quote WCNC found back in 2004, from Gaston County commissioner John Torbett. That’s the same John Torbett who also runs DTI, where hundreds of jobs from all that federal funding still haven't materialized -- and where the chief job recruiter for Gaston County’s Economic Development Commission says there's not much the county can do about it.
“Had there been incentive programs in place,” explains executive director Donny Hicks, “then we'd going back saying ‘hey – we want our money back.’”
“I just know that everything we do is obviously open,” responds Torbett. “Everything is government inspected, highly regulated, cost analyzed. We're doing what the government expects us to do.”
But Torbett didn’t say what taxpayers expect DTI to do – after all those millions in taxpayer dollars, and all those promises of new jobs.
Also, after WCNC started asking questions about Defense Technologies, those claims of hundreds of jobs we found on the company Web site disappeared. We called Torbett to ask him why. Torbett never returned that call. WCNC also phoned DTI’s corporate headquarters in Tampa, Fla. to find out more about those campaign donations to Rep. Myrick from company executives. They didn't call back either.