Raising the 'Little Willie' Specter


June 01, 1991|By GARLAND L. THOMPSON

When is enough enough? It is difficult to understand the public reaction to the news that William L. Adams has a piece of a printing subcontract let by the successful bidder to provide computer services for the state Lottery Agency. Going back over the record of Mr. Adams' dealings with the law -- as ''Little Willie'' Adams, bar owner and reported illegal lottery operator -- doesn't help much.

Here's the story, as old library clips tell it:

In 1951, Mr. Adams testified before a U.S. Senate investigating panel headed by Estes Kefauver. Under a law granting immunity from prosecution, Mr. Adams told the committee he had been a numbers operator, described his lottery's workings and said he had quit it the year before. Clips from the 1930s say his operation was big enough to attract out-of-town mobsters, bringing threats and a bombing, but the out-of-towners got caught.

Learning of Mr. Adams' testimony, city authorities began trying to catch him working the trade he said he had quit. In one case, officers arrested him at a building which had been raided an hour earlier, searched him and said they found evidence to connect him with the operation. That was thrown out by a judge who ruled the arrest illegal.

Next, prosecutors indicted Mr. Adams on six counts for conspiracy, used his Senate testimony over protests by his counsel and won a conviction that was finally overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Immunity from ''any criminal court'' granted to witnesses testifying before the Kefauver Committee meant Maryland's courts, too, not just federal ones, the high court said. The state's attorney then concluded there just wasn't a case.

In 1957, police raided the home of a friend of Mr. Adams, scooping up the late Henry Parks and sweeping in another friend who was passing by. The real target was Mr. Adams, but the officers had planted the evidence on which they based their claims. A captain and an inspector went to the Big House for that. Not William L. Adams.

Attempts continued into the 1980s, but no one ever proved Mr. Adams was anything other than a businessman with a shady past who had turned into an exemplary citizen. Many Americans now deemed solid citizens had similar pasts, Mr. Adams observes, but they are not singled out about it each time they come to public notice. So why him?

Now back to the state lottery. GTECH Corp., a 19-year-old firm with 60 percent of the computer contracts for state lotteries, won a hotly contested bid against Control Data Corp., the incumbent in Maryland. Mr. Adams is treasurer of a newly constituted printing subcontractor to GTECH. Stories on the deal say GTECH brought Mr. Adams and other minority contractors to satisfy a state requirement and cozy up to the governor, but GTECH's people say their firm meets or exceeds such requirements wherever it operates.

That's because GTECH's analysis of state lottery ''play'' shows inner-city dwellers are its heaviest bettors, says Malchester P. Reeves, a black senior executive who crafted GTECH's minority contracting program. Thus, GTECH tilts its business toward minority and women-owned subcontractors.

In Indiana, which has a goal of 100 percent subcontracting with minority and women-owned small businesses, GTECH committed to spend more than $4 million with such firms over five years. In Ohio, GTECH was asked to target 15 percent of service revenues to minority participation. For fiscal 1988 and 1989, the firm spent 97 percent and 87 percent of subcontractor funds with minority suppliers. In California, more than $18.5 million, 26 percent of net operating revenues and 63 percent of the dollars spent for disposable goods and services, went to 40 women- and minority-owned businesses. In Washington, four minority companies collectively hold 60 percent of the equity in a joint venture to service the district's lottery.

That is a commendable record, quite aside from any lingering doubts about the intense lobbying and machinations of friends of Governor Schaefer during the wrangling over who would get the lottery contract. Reasonable doubts have been raised about the propriety of the lobbying and the governor's decision to alter the lottery agency's bid-review process, but no one seems to have bad things to say about the performance of GTECH, the winning bidder, on the jobs it has won in other places.

There's an added fillip: In Illinois, GTECH spends $250,000 a year on research and consulting services at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and in Baltimore it offered $400,000 to Morgan State University for internships, research work and other support to its seven-year-old engineering school. Some observers think the offer to Morgan was a gratuitous reach to win Maryland's business, but the technical and financial committees weighing the competing bids gave high grades to GTECH's services and equipment. And don't forget, GTECH was the low bidder.

From this vantage, the bottom line is that proper questions about the influence of Governor Schaefer's friends on the bid process do not swamp all other considerations. If GTECH didn't do anything illegal to win the contract, its performance record and its community service activity look a lot better than Control Data's. And trying to hang opposition to its completing the contract on William Adams' 40-year- old admissions provides thin gruel for the complainers. It's a cheap shot at Mr. Adams and at GTECH, and it doesn't make a lot of sense.

Garland L. Thompson writes editorials for The Sun.

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