Jeffrey Thompson, traffic cameras and you

February 14, 2013

Bet you didn’t know Jeffrey Thompson profited from speed cameras. (C-SPAN)

A D.C. government contracting dispute resolved itself Wednesday, one that revealed a campaign financier’s erstwhile role in the city’s lucrative traffic camera program.

That’s right: Jeffrey E. Thompson, a key figure in Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 shadow campaign and other alleged shenanigans, made money off of the city’s network of automated red-light and speeding cameras.

In 2007, American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz., won a $7.1 million-a-year contract to maintain the city’s camera network. To meet the city’s goal of subcontracting 35 percent of contracted dollars to local firms, ATS hired Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates — 79 percent of which was owned, at the time, by Thompson — to handle one-fifth of the work, according to government documents. Over the five-year life of the contract, the deal was worth more than $7 million to TCBA.

For the next five years, ATS and TCBA got along peachy-keen, according to recent statements from company officials — so well, in fact, that when it came time to ink a new contract with the city, ATS said it would give TCBA the full share of local subcontracting dollars.

A subcontracting plan dated Feb. 2, 2012, named TCBA as ATS’s sole qualifying subcontractor, to be paid 35 percent of the contract total — as much as $5.18 million over three years. The agreement was signed by ATS executive vice president Adam E. Tuton and notarized.

About a month later, the TCBA offices would be raided by federal agents investigating Thompson’s campaign activity. Within months, Thompson would step down from firm management and then sell his stake in the company — which is now called Bazilio Cobb Associates, or BCA.

So exit Thompson, and enter a contracting tussle between the two firms.

On Aug. 23, 2012, BCA executive Larry Wilson filed a complaint with the District’s Department of Small and Local Business Development, charging that ATS had failed to live up to its 35 percent commitment. After ATS had signed its contract with the city promising to hire his firm, Wilson said, ATS had failed to come back and sign a contract with BCA. He also alleged that ATS had petitioned to get out of its 35 percent subcontracting obligation with BCA. Wilson asked the city to step in and mediate the dispute.

Fast forward to last week. Over the intervening six months, the two firms continued to fail to ink a deal. So D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large), a prime beneficiary of Thompson’s campaign cash over the years, scheduled a hearing for last Friday on the city’s “certified business enterprise” program — the process through which small and local businesses are added to larger city contracts. The lead witnesses were Wilson and three ATS executives, including Chris Merdon, a senior vice president.

However, by the time Wilson and Merdon testified Friday, the two parties had reached a deal — one that Wilson testified had been reached at 2:30 that morning. “We’re satisfied that we’ve put that issue behind us,” he said. “We’re moving forward.”

Burden, in his testimony, also made nice and acknowledged a “tremendous relationship” with BCA and its predecessor. But he also indicated that ATS had been unsatisfied with the rates BCA had offered and had sought a better deal from another certified small business. “We did give [Wilson] an opportunity to match,” he said. “He was unable to do so.”

But there was another twist: The deal inked in the wee hours Friday only guaranteed BCA 30 percent of the contract value, according to Wilson — not the 35 percent discussed in the notarized subcontracting plan. So Orange pressed Merdon, telling him, “I would just suggest that you guys execute a contract pursuant to what you told the government would take place so we can, you know, move forward.”

Orange, with colleagues Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large), on Friday filed a disapproval resolution that halted the second-year option on ATS’s contract. But on Wednesday evening, at another council hearing, Orange announced that ATS and BCA had come to terms on a new subcontracting agreement — one guaranteeing BCA its full 35 percent.

So ends the dispute, and so ends this crash course in contracting with the District of Columbia government.

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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Mike DeBonis · February 14, 2013