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LOS ANGELES-In a remarkable move, a Superior Court judge has tossed out construction giant Tutor-Saliba Corp.’s six-year-old lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority and instead set the stage for the city to collect potentially millions of dollars from the company.

Judge Joseph Kalin ruled that Tutor-Saliba intentionally withheld some important documents and destroyed others during its long litigation with the MTA. The public transportation agency claims it was duped into paying millions to sham companies that Tutor-Saliba secretly controlled while working on the city’s Metro Rail subway project. Kalin told jurors that the only issue they must decide now is how much the contractor should be required to pay in monetary damages.

“There has been intentional withholding of documents and evidence in this case,” Kalin said from the bench late yesterday, as well as “intentional destruction of documents.” He also noted that Tutor-Saliba had ignored a series of court orders demanding that the papers be turned over to the MTA.

Beyond being forced to pay money damages, Tudor-Saliba could also be barred from participating in future government projects. The company has been involved in some of California’s biggest public works projects, including the expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and LA Central Library as well as the modernization and expansion of San Francisco International Airport.

Ironically, Tutor-Saliba itself began the legal battle that now may cost it millions. It filed suit against the MTA in 1995, seeking as much as $16 million in damages for work it claimed had been done on the city’s subway project.

The MTA later filed a lawsuit of its own, under the state’s False Claims Act. It alleged that Tutor-Saliba had overcharged for its work and even created straw companies to pad its billings.

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