Dixon probe is widened

Records from 3 city offices, Comcast subpoenaed

March 22, 2006|By DOUG DONOVAN | DOUG DONOVAN,SUN REPORTER

State prosecutors have broadened a probe of Baltimore City Council President Sheila Dixon by demanding that government offices and Comcast cable television officials deliver information about a city contractor that employs Dixon's sister.

Prosecutors have issued at least four new grand jury subpoenas seeking documents from Mayor Martin O'Malley's two minority business offices, the custodian of council records and the city's cable franchise holder, officials confirmed yesterday.

The subpoenas require city agencies and the cable company, Comcast, to provide all records relating to their business dealings with Union Technologies, or Utech, a firm that employs the council president's sister, Janice Dixon, and helps manage Baltimore's computer network.

Last month The Sun reported that Sheila Dixon might have breached the city's ethics law by not disclosing her sister's employment and by participating in public hearings and votes over the past two years that involved and benefited Utech.

The firm was once a minority subcontractor for Comcast under its city cable franchise. It is currently a subcontractor for TeleCommunications Systems Inc. (TCS), an Annapolis company that manages city government's computer network.

"The subpoena deals directly with Utech," said Comcast spokesman Jim Gordon. "Comcast will comply fully with the request."

The city's top lawyer, Ralph S. Tyler, confirmed that subpoenas to the city all request Utech documents - including financial transactions - maintained by the Minority and Women's Business Opportunity Office, the Mayor's Office of Minority Business Development and the council records office.

After The Sun's article about Dixon's connections to Utech, the city stripped the firm of its official minority certification, which qualifies it to be hired by companies looking to meet Baltimore's minority subcontracting goals.

Utech lost the certification because the business opportunity office found that its downtown office was nothing more than a telephone and a mailbox. The head of the office also said he would review whether Utech actually performed work under its TCS contract with the city.

Investigators with State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh's office delivered the new subpoenas to the city Thursday and to Comcast on Friday. The city's subpoenas specify that the documents be delivered by the end of next week, Tyler said.

It is unclear whether Utech has received a subpoena.

"I'm not at liberty to talk about that," Claude Edward Hitchcock, who is listed as Utech's registered agent, said in a recent interview.

Tim Lorello, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer for TCS, said his company has not received a subpoena.

Utech's president, Mildred E. Boyer, did not return phone calls. Her company's Web site still lists her and Janice Dixon as the company's two contacts.

The new subpoenas come just days after Rohrbaugh's office began investigating Dixon's ties to a firm that has managed the council's computer network since February 2000. Over the past two weeks, state prosecutors have issued subpoenas to the council, O'Malley's Finance Department and the Board of Estimates demanding documents detailing how and why the city paid about $600,000 over six years to the company, which is owned by Dixon's former campaign chairman.

For five of those years, the company, Ultimate Network Integration, received payments to work on the council network without a contract. Its president, Dale G. Clark, continued to be paid even after the city gave the contract to another company.

Clark left the council president's office Feb. 28, just before The Sun published a report detailing the arrangement. City procurement rules require that the five-member Board of Estimates, which Dixon chairs and O'Malley controls, approve all contracts of more than $5,000.

A spokesman for Dixon's office acknowledged a "major oversight." The president severely reprimanded her chief of staff and suspended her deputy chief of staff for one week without pay.

That matter has also led prosecutors to subpoena two companies - Early Morning Software of Baltimore and Snell Enterprises of Columbia - for documents related to their bids on the work that went to Clark. A third company, Sysnet America, is scheduled to be interviewed by prosecutors.

The companies were three of several firms that participated in a bidding process that failed four times to produce a winner because of various technical reasons while Clark continued to get the work.

Early Morning Software eventually won the deal in May 2005 but was fired in December. The mayor's Office of Information Technology has since taken over management of council's computer system, using its contract with TCS and Utech to support the network.

O'Malley has said his administration will try to determine why his purchasing department cut checks to Clark without a contract.

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