Official sought answers on Isis

Records show Ehrlich loyalist questioned legitimacy of minority firm in pre-bid session

March 26, 2007|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,Sun Reporter

An Ehrlich administration loyalist questioned the legitimacy of a firm headed by GOP strategist Carol L. Hirschburg during a pre-bid session held before the firm's inclusion in a $110 million technology contract with the Maryland Department of Human Resources, according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by The Sun.

During the January 2006 meeting, former state transportation administrator Gregory J. Maddalone asked whether Hirschburg's firm would perform "actual work" or merely function as a shell "to funnel [money] through."

"Why did you choose to submit them?" Maddalone asked representatives of prime contractor ACS State and Local Solutions Inc., referring to Hirschburg and her partners' firm, Isis Technology Consulting LLC. "Was there no other women-owned [firm] that you could utilize?"

Maddalone is a former professional ice dancer who held several positions in the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Maddalone also formed a short-lived business with Ehrlich operative Joseph Steffen.

Hirschburg's firm was hastily formed and its application for certification as a woman-owned business was fast-tracked by state officials. In a recent interview, Hirschburg acknowledged that the application was rushed through, but she maintained that she did not receive special treatment and that nothing improper occurred.

During the pre-bid meeting, Maddalone questioned the qualifications of Hirschburg's firm, the transcript shows, but he failed to mention his ties to another minority firm, the Canton Group, which eventually won a spot on the technology contract.

Questions about Hirschburg's fast-tracking experience -- her firm was one of several hundred fast-tracked in recent years -- resulted in an audit of such applications by the Maryland Department of Transportation, which oversees the state's Minority Business Enterprise program. Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari has said he wants to make sure no one is getting special treatment.

Hirschburg, who left the DHR project this year after she failed to negotiate the terms she wanted with ACS, pulled Isis out of the minority business program March 1, the day The Sun ran an article detailing her efforts to secure a $12 million piece of the contract.

Even so, state records show that Isis, a technology recruiting firm, was paid $150,046, including $7,792.56 last month. According to ACS, Isis took on two existing contract employees at DHR, which required no recruitment.

Hirschburg has repeatedly declined to expound on her experiences at DHR, but a transcript of the January 2006 pre-bid meeting, which documents Maddalone's rapid-fire questioning, sheds new light on the contract saga, as do Maddalone's connections to the Canton Group.

Maddalone worked with Aaron Kazi, a partner at the Canton Group, on Ehrlich's 2002 political campaign. Not long after, Maddalone and Steffen formed a business called MadJoe Enterprises. Steffen, who resigned from his state job in 2005 after he admitted spreading rumors about then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's marriage, worked as a consultant on Kazi's campaign for Harford County Council president last year.

Kazi also has ties to the former head of DHR's information technology office, Kirk Grothe, who was a partner at the Canton Group with Kazi before he took the state job in 2004.

Turhan Robinson, an assistant attorney general who works at DHR and monitors contract negotiations, said he was aware of Grothe's ties to the Canton Group -- the state inspector general's office twice reviewed allegations that Grothe had sent Kazi work and dismissed the allegations as groundless both times -- but said he was unaware of Maddalone's connection to Kazi.

Robinson said he carefully briefed Maddalone before he joined the review team -- members of which were either selected by Grothe, joined as volunteers, or were added because of their expertise. Review teams typically consist of three to five members, Robinson said.

The DHR attorney said Maddalone signed a statement in which he promised to recuse himself if he had a conflict of interest.

"I take that document at face value," said Robinson, who added that if he found evidence of collusion he would take it to the attorney general's criminal investigation unit. "I would be very irritated," he said.

Maddalone did not return telephone calls and Grothe, who recently left DHR for a job at the state retirement agency, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Kazi, his brother and business partner, Ethan Kazi, said the brothers didn't know that Maddalone was on the review team. Ethan Kazi said the Canton Group worked as a minority subcontractor at DHR before Grothe's arrival, and that the prime contractor, ACS, asked the Canton Group to participate on the technology contract because of the firm's expertise.

Ethan Kazi said Grothe was bought out of his portion of the firm when he joined DHR.

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