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Retaliation at the rails
Published: July 24, 2008
Source: Las Vegas Now

(The following investigative report by George Knapp appeared on the Las Vegas Now website on July 23. A video of this report is available on the Las Vegas Now website. Previous reporting in this series is available here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

Threats and Warnings Against Former Rail Yard Employees
I-Team: Las Vegas Safety Derailed Part 1
I-Team: Las Vegas Safety Derailed Part 2

LAS VEGAS — Former employees of Union Pacific who gave information to the I-Team say they've received death threats and other warnings because they were willing to talk to us.

Two men who worked at the Union Pacific yards for a subcontractor say they've received threatening phone calls and knocks on the door since providing information about serious problems at the train yards.

And neither the railroad nor its subcontractor wants to talk about it.

"They're not acting like what I interpreted a big business to act like. They're acting like thugs or actual criminals." The former rail yard employee nicknamed Tony says his former employer is acting like a street punk in the wake of I-Team stories detailing glaring security lapses within the Union Pacific facilities in Las Vegas.

In those stories, Tony rode along as the I-Team cruised through the rail yard a dozen times and never once got stopped by security, "You could drive around this lot for the next hour and nobody is going to say nothing."

Every day, tons of highly dangerous cargo passes thru the yards -- bombs, bullets, toxic chemicals and a lot more.

Federal inspectors have found a notable absence of security there, even though the Union Pacific facilities have been identified by government agencies as likely targets for terrorist attacks or criminal sabotage. Tens of thousands of Las Vegas residents could lose their lives, according to government studies.

Tony worked for a Union Pacific subcontractor named Renzenberger, which transports railroad crews back and forth. But he and his co-workers had access to everything within U.P.

It was Tony who identified for us a switch key that came into our hands. The key would allow someone to derail a train and the railroad didn't even know it was missing.

The day after the story aired, Tony received an ominous, anonymous call.

"It was pretty much a threat that they were -- I was gonna be packed in ice and put on a railroad car," he said. The caller said Tony's body would be dumped in the desert. The caller didn't state his name, but we traced the number back to Union Pacific's Las Vegas building.

The next thing that happened is four Union Pacific police, including a captain from California, came to Channel 8 asking for the switch key. The following night, two men flashed U.P. badges where Tony lives, but didn't find him.

Next, calls were placed to another former Renzenberger employee -- a friend of Tony's named Tommy.

"Tell Tony I'm pissed and in 24 hours I will go public with what I know." The call to Tommy was one of several placed by Danette Ford, a supervisor at Renzenberger. Tommy said Ms. Ford was more direct in her first call, "She was gonna have Tony arrested for stealing the key and you arrested for actually having the key."

The I-Team called Danette Ford for a comment. She declined, but then placed an angry call to Tommy, "You unmitigated pr***. How dare you sick George Knapp on me and ambush me. Besides, what comes around goes around. You just watch your back."

Tommy and Tony both say they know exactly why their former boss might be so upset. It's because neither of them should have been hired by Renzenberger.

Because rail yard employees are the first line of defense against security breaches or serious accidents, the railroad has made a big deal out of screening job applicants. Renzenberger brags on its website about its strict background checks for job applicants.

So why did they hire Tommy, who says he's a convicted felon? Tommy says his boss cooked the books.

"I think she played around with my Social Security number so it wouldn't come back," he said.

"Tommy's not your real name -- they know it's not your real name?" asked Knapp.

"Oh yeah, they gave me that name. They gave me the name -- they give people names," said Tommy.

"They give people names that can't pass a background check?" asked Knapp.

"Right," said Tommy.

Tony says he knows of strange hires as well, "They had a drunk they hired three times. They took him back before they finally let him go because the guys in the truck with him were getting scared. U.P. employees were getting scared. They smelled alcohol on his breath."

"They got drunks -- criminal records," asked Knapp.

"Yes they do," said Tony.

"They have people with phony names, phony backgrounds?" asked Knapp.

"They do," said Tony. "Anybody can get a job with them. So if you were a terrorist, you know."

A law enforcement agency has been informed about the threats to Tony and Tommy. A Union Pacific police captain said the reason they wanted to find Tony is to get information about how the switch key got out, and to make sure it doesn't happen again.

A U.P. spokeswoman didn't get the memo though. The verbatim statement, including misspellings, provided by Zoe Richmond, Director of Media for Union Pacific says:

“The invidiual in the KLAS story regarding railroads and security was not a Union Pacific Employee, but an employee for one of our contractors. He was let on April 16, 2008. I cannot provide specifics about his employement or termination due to privacy concerns. But I can assure you it is not related to his apperence in your stories.

“These allegations are false. UP police did not recieve instructions to contact anyone other than your station to retrieve company property.

“Union Pacific works with a 3rd party to conduct background checks on its contractors and employees. It is an extensive and rigurous process.

“Finally, UP has a strict code of conduct for all its employees and contractors and we question the reporter's source.”

In that vein, we invite other current and former employees to contact us about their experiences with U.P. and its subcontractors.


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