The state special prosecutor's office has subpoenaed records from the Baltimore Department of Public Works as part of an investigation into allegations that a public works employee steered contracts for trucks and trucking equipment to a select group of vendors, according to city officials and government sources.
The alleged scheme, according to government sources, involves payoffs amounting to thousands of dollars.
Two weeks ago, state investigators subpoenaed five years' worth of records related to the preparation of specifications for vehicles such as trash and dump trucks, public works Director George G. Balog confirmed yesterday.
The inquiry predates the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
The purchase of the city's fleet of vehicles -- from police patrol cars to snow plows -- is handled by staff at the Central Garage on Dickman Street with the help of a city purchasing agent. The city buys an average of $5 million in replacement vehicles a year, according to Ben Franklin, the acting chief of the garage.
Neither assistant state prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough nor James I. Cabezas, the chief investigator for the office, would comment on the probe.
"I won't confirm or deny whether we are doing an investigation," said Mr. McDonough.
But Mr. Balog said his personal office files on the agency's Central Garage -- specifically a year-old internal investigation of garage operations -- were turned over to state prosecutors, as well as records from the garage.
He said the agency is cooperating "150 percent" with investigators.
The state prosecutor's probe centers on allegations that a public works employee tailored the specifications for certain equipment match the stock manufactured by a handful of companies, according to government sources. As a result, only those companies would be able to provide the goods, the sources said. A city auditor also has been assigned to the case.
The extent of the alleged payoffs and the companies involved could not be determined last night.
The internal investigation of the garage operations ordered by Mr. Balog last year followed a similar complaint of favoritism. Mr. Balog refused to divulge the results of his internal investigation and would say only that the garage employee responsible for handling the contracts, Floyd W. Dearborn of Fallston, was transferred to another job within the department.
Mr. Dearborn had been in that job for 10 years before he was sent last November to work in the department's wastewater division. "I can't comment on any action I took, because it's under criminal investigation," Mr. Balog said.
Mr. Dearborn could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Balog said he has devised a new system that puts the responsibility for writing the specifications -- the technical aspects of the equipment -- into the hands of several staffers, instead of just one.
Generally, when a city agency wants to buy a piece of equipment it contacts the Central Garage. The make, model and special features of the equipment -- ranging from its size to specialty options -- would be included in the specifications prepared by a garage staffer. Bids for the purchase of the equipment would then be advertised to the public.