City prosecutors join probe of mayor's technology office

Investigation into allegations of fraud continues

September 10, 2014|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's top lawyer said Wednesday that the state's attorney's office has partnered with the city inspector general to investigate allegations that the Mayor's Office of Information Technology paid contractual employees for work they didn't perform.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson, who supervises city Inspector General Robert H. Pearre Jr., confirmed that Baltimore prosecutors are now involved in the probe.

"They have been working together," Nilson said. "I do know that the investigation is not 100 percent complete. I do know there have been collaborative activities between the inspector general and state's attorney's office."

Pearre and Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, declined to comment on the investigation.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced in March that the inspector general had begun an investigation into what she called "very serious allegations of fraud and abuse." Administration officials said at the time that the investigation was focused on whether work the city paid for was actually done and whether it was performed by the individuals who were paid.

The head of the office, Christopher Tonjes, resigned in June after being placed on administrative leave during the probe. He denied any wrongdoing and objected to what he called an unfair "cloud of scrutiny." In his resignation letter, Tonjes expressed frustration with the pace of the investigation, saying it is an "undisputed fact that I have not engaged in any wrongdoing."

Tonjes, who earned $150,000 a year, was replaced by his deputy, Jerome Mullen, who has been serving as acting chief.

Pearre pledged initially that the investigation would last weeks, not months. Tonjes said he was never interviewed by Pearre, despite offering multiple times to meet with him.

City officials have said three companies provided contractual workers during the 18-month period covered by the inspector general's investigation: Digicon, which has offices in Rockville and Virginia; Windbourne Consulting LLC, which has an office in Washington, among other cities; and Telecommunications Systems Inc., an international firm headquartered in Annapolis.

The city's previous inspector general investigated irregularities in the information technology office under its previous director, Rico J. Singleton, who resigned in February 2012. Singleton stepped down after the release of a New York state audit that found he had negotiated jobs for his girlfriend and himself while working for that state's information technology office.

The report by then-Inspector General David McClintock showed that the office had purchased nearly $675,000 in phone-related equipment under an existing contract with Digicon rather than seeking new proposals. The scathing report found potential conflicts of interest and missed opportunities for "significant cost savings."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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