American Consequences - May 2020

asking for, according to text messages Stewart later shared. The grainy cellphone video pans over what appear to be hundreds of boxes labeled 3M, but it was unclear what was in the boxes or where they were. By 3 p.m. Stewart had been joined by several friends and associates, including Roosevelt “Trey” Daniels of Frontline Recovery, a Houston disaster recovery firm. Daniels connected FGE to King. Stewart and Daniels made dozens of calls – to King, to trucking companies, to cargo jet owners. “Hey, Frank,” Daniels said into his cell. “Who is a good freight company?” And that would lead to the next call and the next. By 5:20, Daniels had suggested they send a portion of the shipment by truck to Illinois, while they figured out how to get the rest on planes. Stewart insisted that he wanted to get the whole shipment there at once. Then, a new idea emerged. Maybe they could buy some time by getting the VA to agree to an extension. Daniels had worked as a district director for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat, and got her office to draft a letter in support of FGE. “Can you lend your voice to this veteran- owned, African American business?” Roosevelt said he asked the congresswoman. “And she said yes. She’s always willing to go to bat for folks who are trying to do the right thing.” Stewart drafted a formal extension request, citing provisions in federal contracting law. As the evening wore on, what was at first frenetic determination to pull off a miracle subsided

Also joining us was Dawn Lockhart, Stewart’s friend from middle school whom he had hired as FGE’s human resources director. She, like me, had been told by Stewart that everyone on board would have access to an N95 mask for protection on the flight. But there were none. Despite his company’s moniker, there seemed nothing expert about this operation. Stewart said his company lawyer had missed the flight because he slept in. Lockhart, who joked that she was wearing a skirt and heels for the first time in three years, was flipping through a textbook titled “Strategic Staffing.” Stewart was building his company, like this deal, in midflight. Once we were airborne, Stewart said he had found a new mask supplier in Atlanta who could quickly deliver to Chicago. He said that once we landed he would drop his folks off at the Hilton Oak Brook Hills Resort just outside of Chicago and then he and I would take a taxi over to the VA distribution center and wait for a mask delivery “even if we have to wait until 3 a.m.” But we never left the confines of the vast and vacant Hilton, where two employees sat bored behind makeshift plexiglass barriers. In the lobby, Stewart worked the phones. He needed the VA to sign off on his new arrangement, but to win approval, he needed invoices and other documentation that he said King wasn’t sending over. Just before 2 p.m., King had sent the “proof of life” video that Stewart said he’d been

American Consequences


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