Private security company target of myriad lawsuits

Company is the largest courthouse security firm in the country as of today

By Paul Elias
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Few security companies have benefited as much from the surge of Sept. 11-related government contracts as Akal Securities, a New Mexico-based company controlled by American converts to a Sikh religious sect.

The company launched in 1980 with small contracts to protect grocery stores and bars and now has 10,000 employees who stand guard at federal courthouses in 40 states, Army bases, airports, U.S. embassies and federal immigration detention centers. It has won more than $3 billion in federal contracts since Sept. 11, 2001 and has become the largest courthouse security contractor in the country.

But along with its phenomenal growth comes mounting legal problems.

Akal is the subject of dozens of legal cases pursued by federal officials, whistle-blowing employees and others with wide-ranging allegations, including many wrongful terminations. The company itself disclosed 134 “pending, or current litigation matters” throughout the country to a Washington D.C. federal court last year. A competitor, Walden Security disclosed 12 such matters to the same court. Walden employs 3,000.

Just last month, Akal agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle Justice Department allegations that it falsified firearms training test for guards at several federal courthouses in northern California.
Akal’s president Daya Khalsa said his company faces no more legal problems than other similar-sized companies.

Khalsa said the company settled the gun-range allegations on Sept. 28 to avoid further financial exposure and the company feared an even bigger financial loss if it fought the allegations before an unpredictable jury.

Specifically, gun range operators were accused of allowing some guards to complete target shooting tests beyond the allotted time limit and then telling the Marshals Service they passed.
Founded in 1980 with a $1,200 loan, Akal is owned by the nonprofit religious organization Sikh Dharma created in the early 1970s by a Sikh leader named Yogi Bhajan, whodied in 2004.
The company’s name is a Sanskrit word meaning “undying” or immortality and it was a battle cry of Sikh warriors. The Sikh Dharma organization is the largest Sikh organization in the west. Its male followers almost always adopt the name “Khalsa,” which means “purity,” and wear turbans, robes, beards and long hair that is never cut.

By Bhajan’s death, Sikh Dharma had under its aegis myriad charities, schools and religious nonprofits.

Akal has over the last several years also paid out tens of millions of dollars to settle lawsuits alleging that it treated its pregnant workers shabbily and provided poorly trained guards to watch over army bases. It has run into legal hassles with the union representing the guards and individual employees who alleged they were wrongly terminated.

The U.S. Marshals Service last year awarded Akal $1.6 billion over five years to guard federal courthouses in 11 of the country’s 12 federal districts. Khalsa said the company’s rapid growth after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have also contributed to Akal’s legal woes. “We grew tremendously,” he said, adding, “Some of our growth got ahead of our system and quality controls.”