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Blowing the whistle on bid rigging

Somewhere behind what has become the nation's largest antitrust investigation - into highway bid rigging - there had to be a whistle blower.

According to Justice Department bid-rigging investigator Richard Braun, Robert H. Collins Sr. - who recently retired from his investigative reporter's job with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - was the one who started this ball rolling.

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Mr. Collins says he began getting tips from his Illinois sources on possible bid rigging on highway jobs as far back as the late 1950s and early 1960s. By the mid-1960s, he began to gather more information.

''In the beginning I spent a long period of time in the records of Illinois trying to prove this,'' Collins says.

Finally he developed what appeared to be a ''pattern'' of highway bid rigging. Then he found a highway contractor who agreed to talk to him if Collins agreed not to use his name.

The contractor was a man who had felt he ''had to be dishonest to do business and he didn't want to be dishonest,'' Collins recalls. ''Finally he [the contractor] had had enough,'' says Collins.

In the 1970, the Post-Dispatch began publishing the first of Collins' many articles on highway bid rigging. His investigation was followed by federal grand jury probes in downstate Illinois, and later, Chicago and other states. The investigations continue in a number of states, according to the Justice Department.

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