By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 19, 2009
District government officials moved to shore up security in the city's technology office yesterday, placing four employees on administrative leave and firing 23 consultants from firms connected to an alleged bribery scam uncovered last week.
The disciplinary actions come less than a week after federal law enforcement agents arrested technology office manager Yusuf Acar and consultant Sushil Bansal, charging them with conspiring to steal city money through a scheme involving "ghost" employees and kickbacks. Both men were arrested last week.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) declined to comment on the case because the investigation is continuing, and his administration did not disclose the names of the employees and consultants. The four employees have been implicated in the scheme but not charged. It is not clear whether any of the consultants are suspected of wrongdoing.
City government sources said 17 of the consultants worked for Advanced Integrated Technologies, which is owned by Bansal. Four worked for Circle Networks, which is co-owned by Acar, and two worked for Innovative IT Solutions, another Bansal company.
In addition to the actions in the technology office, one employee in the office of the chief financial officer was placed on leave and three technology consultants in that agency were fired, spokesman David Umansky said. The employee had worked with Acar in the technology office before joining the finance department, according to an affidavit filed by federal prosecutors last week.
D.C. Council members said the firings should be the start of broader reforms and punishments.
"Just letting go of contractors is not enough," said Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large). "We've got to go after retribution if these people participated in illegal activities."
The technology office, which has a full-time staff of about 300, hires an additional 300 consultants each year to help with temporary work ranging from creating software and data systems to answering phones on the help desk. Almost 100 firms compete for the jobs, though some of them have complained that city employees routinely give most of the contracts to a small number of companies, including AITC.
The bribery case has jolted city government, which was embarrassed by the disclosure of a $50 million embezzlement scheme in the tax office that was uncovered by federal agents in November 2007.
Federal authorities said Acar, who was the acting director of information security, and Bansal stole at least $500,000. Over the past five years, AITC has received more than $13 million in city contracts, and Circle Networks has received more than $2 million.
Vivek Kundra, who headed the technology office for two years before being appointed by President Obama as the nation's chief information officer last month, has not been implicated in the scheme. Kundra, who authorities said was not suspected of wrongdoing, had been placed on leave by the White House after the scandal broke, but he returned to work yesterday after receiving clearance from the U.S. attorney's office. Since his departure from the technology office, his former deputy, Thomas Jones, has been serving as acting director of the agency.
D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said yesterday that the council will conduct a review of the contracting procedures in the technology agency.
"One of the key issues will be, who's going to be the next leader of that office?" Gray said.
Staff writer Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.