Federal prosecutors have requested all documents related to the county's $15-million contract with Lockheed Martin IMS Corp.
By MICHAEL SANDLER
Published September 1, 2004
CLEARWATER - Federal prosecutors this week demanded more than two years of Pinellas County records related to a troubled contract intended to help people on welfare return to work.
Officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa and investigators with the U.S. Department of Labor's fraud division in Hollywood have requested all documents related to the county's $15-million contract with Lockheed Martin IMS Corp., according to a subpoena.
Steve Cole, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Tampa, would not say who is the target of the grand jury investigation.
The request comes as state and federal investigators continue to look into local contracts awarded to Affiliated Computer Services, particularly in South Florida. ACS purchased Lockheed's welfare-to-work business in Florida and is one of the biggest government-services firms.
In January, the state's Labor Department issued a report that said ACS manipulated data and kept sloppy records that could have helped the company earn millions in government bonuses across the state. The report stopped short of accusing ACS of fraud.
The Pinellas subpoena requests all contracts, files, payroll information, records explaining the payment of bonuses, audits, invoices and correspondence, among other documents.
Pinellas County attorneys said they are working to meet the subpoena's Sept. 14 deadline. They have more than 3,700 boxes on hold, and federal investigators are arranging to secure and store the records, Assistant County Attorney Dennis Long said.
But prosecutors have allowed some flexibility. Though dated July 12, the subpoena was delivered Monday. "The deadline is not a hard and fast deadline," Long said.
Pinellas County Attorney Susan Churuti said she does not know who the grand jury is targeting.
"They may just want to look at the records and find out who their target is and what the focus is," Churuti said. "There were problems with this contract in South Florida. It might be part of a statewide look. We just don't know."
Pinellas County's relationship with the contractor has been tumultuous over the past five years.
Lockheed won the Pinellas welfare-to-work contract in 1999 from two nonprofit boards, but pulled out by February 2001 after Pinellas County took over the contract and officials criticized the company's performance.
After it purchased Lockheed Martin's welfare-to-work business, ACS sued the county in December 2001, saying it was owed about $2.3-million. This year the county paid $612,000 to the contractor to settle the suit.
This year a St. Petersburg Times investigation found that county officials resisted performing a key audit that would have gone beyond a review of paper invoices by interviewing clients Lockheed claimed to have helped.
Pinellas County leaders said they did a review and that a forensic audit was not warranted. Records show the county attorney repeatedly warned that the audit would be expensive and, if fraud was discovered, commissioners could be held responsible.
The allegations of fraud were initially raised in 2000 by then-Assistant County Administrator Rick Dodge.
County Administrator Steve Spratt fired Dodge in 2002. Dodge has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the county, charging his firing was an attempt to silence his inquiry.
"We have supplied records to a number of investigating agencies, and we intend to cooperate fully with anyone else who would like to investigate this further," Spratt said.