Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department sent to the Public Integrity Division of the District Attorney’s office a case alleging that an official or officials in the department’s Aero Bureau (the section of the LASD that provides air support and air rescue) colluded with an outside contractor to manipulate a multimillion dollar service provider contract.
The DA’s office will now have to decide whether or not to open a criminal investigation into the case, according to DA spokesperson Sandi Gibbons “We also need to know if the department is doing any further investigation on the case,” Gibbons said.
According to Mike Gennaco, head of the Office of Independent Review, the material sent to the DA’s office involves three sets of allegations all having to do with a contract for the completion and outfitting of 12 to 14 newly-purchased LASD helicopters, at approximately $2.1 million per aircraft.
In brief, as we understand it, the allegations are as follows:
1. That a supervisor or supervisors in Aero Bureau had an inappropriate relationship with Hangar One, an avionics contractor doing business with the department. And that, as a consequence of that relationship, a supervisor colluded to manipulate the bidding process for a $29.2 million million contract, so that that Hangar One was the only possible successful bidder, acing out more experienced providers, even though Hangar One was a comparatively new company without a long term track record. As part of this “inappropriate relationship” it is further alleged that a select group of Aero Bureau officials benefited from the Hangar One contract in the form of expensive flight suits and the like.
2. The allegations further suggest that the resulting contract is rife with gross over-charging for fixed labor costs in doing the outfitting, and that the over-payments reach into the millions of dollars.
3. It is also alleged that bundled into the retrofitting contract is the purchase of several million dollars worth of high ticket equipment that is not directly related to the helicopter outfitting, and therefor did not fall within the scope of what was approved by the LA County Board of supervisors. If true, this means that the additional items bypassed the usual purchasing protocols. It is also suggested that many of these extra purchases were charged at significantly above standard industry prices.
THESE AND OTHER ALLEGATIONS are also contained in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against LA County by Lt. Edison Cook, a 33-year veteran of the department who came to Aero Bureau in the summer of 2009, and was reportedly alarmed by what he saw.
IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT the allegations related to the Hangar One helicopter outfitting contract were sent to the office of the county’s Auditor Controller, who reportedly found nothing amiss, according to the OIR’s Genneco.
(The OIR has not completed its own investigations into the various Aero Bureau-related allegations.)
Sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Whitmore told WitnessLA last week that, in addition to the Auditor Controller, the same contract-related allegations were investigated by the department’s own internal criminal investigative arm, ICIB. “They said there were no irregularities and no substantiation to the allegations,” said Whitmore.
As to why, then, the three-pronged investigation was then sent to the DA’s office, Whitmore said the process was not unusual, even with unsubstantiated allegations. “It’s good to include others,” he said.
Whitmore also informed WitnessLA with regard to these and other allegations contained in Lt. Cook’s lawsuit, that Elizabeth M. Kessel, one of the attorneys representing the county in the lawsuit, characterized Cook as a “disgruntled former employee. This litigation will show that his allegations are meritless, and based on gossip and innuendo.”
“It’s very unusual for the defense counsel to make that kind of statement,” added Whitmore.
When we called Kessel’s office, she declined to get on the phone with us, but a representative called back to reaffirm the “disgruntled former employee” characterization, et al.
Experts we polled agreed that such a statement from the county’s defense attorney, while not entirely unheard of, was indeed unusual, especially in advance of litigation.
MEANWHILE, OTHER SOURCES FAMILIAR WITH THE VARIOUS ALLEGATIONS claim that there is much more to the Aero Bureau story than the department has thus far been willing to admit.
WitnessLA has conducted our own 8-week investigation into these and additional allegations made regarding Aero Bureau, in the course of which we have made some interesting discoveries. We will post the first part of our 2-part report very shortly. So stay tuned.