The Insider

Stockman's Stapp Infection
When it comes to providing constituent services for campaign contributors under fire from federal agencies on pollution and sexual harassment allegations, Congressman Steve Stockman is a real blue-collar kind of guy.

Take the convoluted case of Stapp Towing, a Dickinson-based tugboat and barge operation accused by federal agencies of repeated spills of fuel into area waterways and the sexual harassment of young male crew members by a former tugboat captain who is the brother of company CEO Bruce Stapp. After receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from members of the Stapp family in 1994, including young children of company officials, and from Stapp employees, Stockman rolled up his sleeves and went to bat for the troubled company in the hallways of power.

Stapp officials deny that the company is pollution-prone or that the sexual harassment claims by its former employees have merit. And Steve Stockman has taken those denials to heart. Over the last two years, the Friendswood congressman and his subordinates have devoted an inordinate amount of energy to the company's cause, attending Defense Department review hearings after the government suspended the company's fuel hauling contract, meeting on behalf of Stapp in Stockman's office with an Air Force general and attending a Small Business Administration review in Houston in an attempt to get the company re-certified for government business.

It was Stockman himself who wrote a letter of protest to Gilbert Casellas, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, questioning the EEOC's decision to sue Stapp on behalf of the young men who claimed sexual harassment while working on Stapp vessels. The congressman demanded that Casellas reveal his "reasons for this maneuver," since federal appeals courts thus far have held that same-sex sexual harassment is not covered under federal employment law. "I question the motives of any agency that would use this kind of judgment in the handling of a legal matter," the congressman went on to declare. "The Stapp case illustrates how the heavy hand of governmental agencies leads to citizens' distrust of government."

But a review of Stockman's relationship with Stapp and his attempts to keep the beleaguered company feeding at the federal trough suggests that the real heavy hands in the case belong to none other than Stockman and his staff, rather than the federal agencies he's criticized, and puts the congressman's motives in the matter up for question as well.

Stockman's efforts on behalf of the company eventually came to naught when Stapp was denied a fuel-carrying contract with the Defense Department, and the EEOC has been unfazed by the Stockman intervention and continues to pursue its sex harassment lawsuit against Stapp. But based on the documentation, it's clear Stockman went all out to help a campaign contributor who also happens to be an accused polluter and sexual harasser.

According to Karen Schools, an attorney with the Defense Fuels Supply Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, Stapp Towing had been a spot contract jet fuel transporter for the Defense Department when its performance was called into question in the fall of 1994. The Defense Logistics Agency documented 12 fuel spills by Stapp between January 1993 and the fall of the following year, compared to only one spill for another company under federal contract.

An agency memo issued in March of last year summarized Stapp's record: "It is clear that Stapp has a chronic and persistent history of spills, and that the carrier has failed to take measures designed to prevent such pollution incidents." According to the memo, "Stapp Towing has displayed an indifference to the environment and safety of personnel with frequent leaks into both the air and water. The company has not been cooperative in its response letter in improving its pattern of poor performance. This lack of cooperation is evidenced by the long list of performance problems described in this memorandum."

The Defense Fuels Supply Center temporarily suspended Stapp from eligibility for spot fuel contracts in late 1994. According to Schools, the company sought an injunction against the action in a Texas district court, but it was not granted.

During the same period, Stapp began seriously cultivating Stockman. Stapp president John Stapp and Hoyt McBryar, the company official in charge of its "regulatory compliance quality program," ponied up $1,000 each for Stockman's campaign fund, as did Carolyn and Elizabeth Stapp. Melissa and Stephanie Stapp, listed as employees of Stapp Towing, also were listed as contributing $1,000 each. Their contributions created problems later when it was discovered that they are actually the young children of John and Carolyn. The Stockman campaign returned their contributions in June of last year.

In March 1995, Stapp's continued performance problems led the Defense Fuels Supply Center to request a high-level "carrier review board" session to examine the company's eligibility for contracts. Stockman then requested that the head of the Defense Fuels Supply Center, Air Force General Leon Wilson, meet with him and Congressmen Robert Dornan in Stockman's congressional office.

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Tim Fleck
Contact: Tim Fleck