The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

March 18, 2013

Pa. Turnpike CEO orders review of contracts

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's compliance officer will review every professional services contract that was cited in a grand jury report that alleged a long-running "pay to play" scheme at the agency, new chief executive officer Mark Compton said Monday.

In an interview, Compton said the grand jury report was alarming and that he wants to make sure the agency's contracts were awarded appropriately.

"We don't believe there's any (contracts) like that, but we want to make sure," Compton said.

The review will be conducted by the agency's compliance officer, who can report directly to turnpike commissioners, if necessary. Employees and professional services contractors also will be encouraged to contact the compliance officer about inappropriate conduct, he said.

One contract singled out by the grand jury was with the technology consulting firm Ciber Inc. and cost $82 million, the grand jury said.

In its 85-page report unveiled Wednesday, the grand jury said witnesses testified that a Ciber ex-vice president, Dennis Miller, told employees to bill for unnecessary tasks, helped raise money from sub-consultants for an influential former state senator and bought expensive dinners and other gifts for top turnpike commission officials.

Miller is facing various charges, including bid-rigging. Miller's lawyer has said his client cooperated fully with the grand jury investigation and will fight the charges.

The turnpike commission ended the contract with Ciber two years ago and plans to seek reimbursement through the courts, turnpike officials said Monday. A spokeswoman for Ciber, based in Greenwood Village, Colo., near Denver, said in a statement Monday that the company is cooperating with the investigation and it will cooperate with a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission review of the contract, as well.

The project was successfully implemented, and the turnpike commission signed off on it more than four years ago, spokeswoman Robin Caputo said.

Eight people were charged Wednesday, including six whom the grand jury said were connected to the alleged "pay to play" scheme in which contract-hungry vendors gave lavish gifts and political campaign contributions.

The grand jury report also cited witnesses that questioned the need for the Ciber contract.

"Witness after witness testified that the turnpike did not need the system proposed and implemented by Ciber," the grand jury wrote. "One witness described the turnpike as purchasing a Cadillac Escalade when a Ford Focus would do. Another witness thought that the turnpike was 'trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer.'"

Ciber's contract work began in 2004, according to the grand jury.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane has said the four-year investigation is ongoing, but that investigators are bound by a statute of limitations that goes back to 2002.

Compton said he is not disputing any of the allegations in the grand jury report. But he also stressed that the agency has improved its contracting procedures in the past two years and that the grand jury cited the actions of a few, not the vast majority of turnpike employees.

One of the commissioners, former state Democratic Senate leader Bill Lincoln, testified before the grand jury under a grant of immunity, and revealed that he accepted gift certificates to a resort from an engineering firm and did not disclose them. He has not responded to a request for comment.

 

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