Balto. City schools, employee named in $5 million lawsuit Former computer official alleges he was defamed

March 23, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jean Thompson contributed to this article.

Claiming he was defamed by allegations that he accepted kickbacks, the former supervisor of the Baltimore public schools' computer department filed a $5 million lawsuit yesterday against the school system and the man who now has his job.

Terry Laster, who was director of management information systems for the city schools until September, alleged in the suit filed in Baltimore City Circuit Court that Craig S. Richburg, who now supervises the school system's computers, defamed him in a March 14 interview on a local television newscast.

According to the suit, which also names the school system and the city of Baltimore as defendants, Mr. Richburg gave an interview in which he stated that Mr. Laster had "secret slush funds" and received kickbacks with respect to the purchase of an IBM mainframe computer by the school system, and that Mr. Laster caused the school system to overpay for the computer.

Mr. Laster is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages from Mr. Richburg. He is seeking an additional $2.5 million from the city.

"I haven't seen the document, so there's no way I can comment" on the lawsuit, Mr. Richburg said.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, referring to a variety of lawsuits filed against the school system, said: "I don't feel comfortable making a comment because there are so many court orders and I don't want to be guilty of contempt or violating a cease-and-desist order."

Until September, Mr. Laster was in charge of developing a

computer program for managing the records of special-education students, a project ordered by a federal judge seeking improvements in programs for these students. Mr. Laster was replaced by Mr. Richburg after critics of the computer system said it inadequately kept track of students' records, prompting plaintiffs in an 11-year-old lawsuit against the schools to threaten a move to remove special education services from the control of Baltimore school officials.

The FBI is conducting a broadinvestigation covering the school system's purchases of computer equipment and software design services between 1992 and 1995. School system

employees interviewed in recent weeks by the FBI said they have been asked whether co-workers had improper ties to two companies with which they did business: IBM, which sold the schools $1.2 million in computer equipment; and Traore Corp., which had a $169,000 contract to design computer programs for managing student records.

Mr. Laster also seeks $25,000 from the city and school system for breach of contract, alleging he was not paid for the three months he was on administrative leave before he started another job as the city's director of management information systems in December. He also has been told he will be laid off June 30.

Pub Date: 3/23/96

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