Ethics law breached in lawn contract

State employee helped steer $107,000 in maintenance work to brother-in-law, audit finds


A Maryland School for the Deaf employee was directly involved in awarding $107,000 in lawn maintenance work to a company owned by her brother-in-law, an apparent violation of state ethics law, according to an audit released yesterday.

State ethics laws generally prohibit employees from participating in matters in which close relatives have an interest. The woman was terminated and no longer works for the school, according to the audit. The matter was referred to the attorney general's office for review, the report says.

The company involved, which was not identified in the audit, also employed the employee's son, auditors wrote. The company received contracts each year for the past six years to do lawn maintenance work and was paid about $107,000, auditors said.

"This employee controlled virtually all aspects of the procurement of a contract awarded to a firm that was owned by and employed certain of the employee's relatives," legislative auditor Bruce A. Myers wrote in a cover letter to the report.

Auditors determined that the employee, assisted by a subordinate, prepared bids, solicited vendors, selected the winning company and approved purchase orders.

It wasn't clear if the employee was fired or quit under pressure. The audit report says only that the school's management "advised that the employee was terminated."

The Maryland School for the Deaf works with deaf children and their families at campuses in Frederick and Columbia. It had 377 students enrolled last fall, auditors said.

In a written response to auditors, school officials said that the employee, when confronted, argued that the ethics law did not apply to her case because she received no financial gain from the transaction.

However, the prohibition on dealing with close relatives was spelled out in an employee handbook the woman signed, school officials wrote, and she was responsible for seeking guidance if she had any questions about the law.

Myers declined to discuss the audit findings.

The lawn maintenance contract at issue was for the Columbia campus and has been rebid and awarded to a different vendor in the wake of the audit findings, school officials said. They referred further questions to James E. Tucker, the school's superintendent, who was not available for comment

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