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D.C. Court Custodial Chief Has Record

Manager Admitted Fraud at Airport

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 8, 2005; Page B01

The man in charge of a new custodial contract at D.C. Superior Court pleaded guilty two years ago to taking part in a $2 million fraud at Reagan National Airport while he was in charge of the janitorial staff there, court records show.

Mauricio Navarrete recently began managing a $1.2 million annual contract to keep the District's bustling downtown courthouse clean. The job gives him the run of court buildings, including unsupervised access to secure areas such as case file rooms and cellblocks.

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Court records show that Navarrete is not the only ex-offender on the cleaning company's payroll. The contractor employs a woman who pleaded guilty last year to stealing while working on a cleaning crew at the airport.

Navarrete is identified as the project manager on the court's contract with Topflite Building Services, a Maryland company. He declined to comment, and court officials would not address questions about whether he should be allowed to work there.

Navarrete, 48, was working for another company when he and others were charged with cheating the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. He pleaded guilty in March 2003 to three misdemeanor counts of first-degree fraud. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman gave him two years' probation and ordered him to pay $5,000 in restitution for his role in the scheme.

An outside consultant on courthouse security said he found it troubling that people with records for fraud and theft were working in such a sensitive environment.

"It calls into question what kind of checking the courthouse's people are doing," said Lawrence Siegel of Columbia, a senior fellow at the Justice Programs Office of American University. "If you've got someone who's committed a fraud against an employer, that would be a red flag to anyone and certainly would be to a court."

Court officials said that all contractors must pass background checks by the U.S. Marshals Service and that neither Navarrete nor the other employee had been banned. The court -- not the marshals -- issues special identification cards that provide access to the secure parts of the courthouse complex, and court officials are not bound by the marshals' recommendation.

Topflite's contract took effect last month, and Anne B. Wicks, the court's executive officer, learned last week, after an inquiry from a reporter, of Navarrete's role in the airport scandal, officials said. Wicks would not say whether any court official in a position to revoke Navarrete's identification card knew earlier of his conviction in the fraud case and the nature of his crimes.

U.S. Marshal Steve Conboy, who oversees security at Superior Court, said he plans to find out what members of his staff knew about the two employees and how they followed up. But Conboy said he would not speculate about whether a different decision should have been made.

The Marshals Service typically examines criminal histories of people who are going to be working in court buildings. If someone has a record, the marshals look at the nature of the charges and make one of three recommendations to the court's administrative services division about access: cleared, denied or restricted.

When they make a recommendation, however, the marshals are not expected to have looked at the details of the charges, and they do not know what type of job the person is being screened for, Conboy said.

The system, he said, may need to be improved. "I'm definitely looking at reviewing and, if necessary, changing the way we do business," Conboy said.

Court officials said they do not plan to take action against Topflite. They said that the company did not breach its contract, which requires its employees at the courthouse to pass the security checks.

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