Prince William County Announces Measures After Information Technology Scandal

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 6, 2009

New internal control measures and a background-check policy have commenced in Prince William County's information technology department to prevent corruption in an organization rocked by scandal two months ago.

The actions, Deputy County Executive Melissa Peacor told the Prince William Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday, are among many that will come over the next several months, as officials and an outside consulting firm review the department in which three former employees, along with another Virginia man, allegedly pulled off one of the largest bid-rigging and embezzlement scandals in county history.

"Can we ensure no one will ever steal from the county again? No, but we can put controls in place" to lessen the potential for it to happen, Peacor said. "We are on top of this issue and want to keep the board and the community informed. . . . We have good people left in IT, and they want to prove to the community they do good work."

In June, four men, including Maneesh Gupta, the IT department's former assistant chief information officer, were indicted on 153 charges that included racketeering, bid-rigging, forgery, obtaining money by false pretenses and money laundering over five years. Officials close to the case said the men rigged the county's contracting system to send $9 million in work to shell companies they created.

Out of the 113 IT systems the department handles, six were affected by the alleged contract fraud, Peacor said. The real estate assessment system and an internal performance evaluation system were the largest ones affected. Peacor said that the integrity of the systems is intact and that personal data for county employees and residents were not compromised. All major public safety systems are also secure.

Peacor said that the county lost money because of the fraud but that the exact amount will be unknown until the investigation is complete.

The rest of the county's IT systems are under review, and the national consulting firm RSM McGladrey has been hired for $280,000 to study the controls and security measures in the IT department, Peacor said. An audit is also being conducted on Getronics, which the county has contracted with to manage the IT hardware and software for all county employees since 2000. This audit began before the alleged bid-rigging scandal and is looking at the terms and controls of the contract.

To prevent further problems, Peacor said, all IT vendors and their employees will be investigated before the county enters into an agreement with them. There will also be stronger internal controls in place, which will limit the amount of responsibility of any employee.

Before, Gupta had sole control over numerous parts of the contracting process, county officials said, which is why it was hard to detect wrongdoing over the past several years. It was the IT department's chief information officer, Massoud Nourbakhsh, who allowed that to happen, they said. Nourbakhsh reported to former county executive Craig S. Gerhart. County officials said Gerhart put Nourbakhsh on administrative leave once he learned of the scandal, and Nourbakhsh resigned shortly thereafter.

"Never again will one person be in charge of all aspects of contract management," Peacor said, noting that every department has been reviewed and none has demonstrated a similar setup. "A lot more levels of control have been put in place."

Peacor said the county will replace the chief information officer of the department by year's end and replace the three IT employees who were fired because of the alleged scheme.

Although internal controls are in place throughout county departments, Peacor said, government officials will work to strengthen them. An ethics course will begin this summer for department heads and their employees, and a new Internal Control Council will be established. The council, which will consist of members from numerous county departments, will work to promote efficiency and reduce the risk of asset loss countywide.

"We've found over the years that if we put together interdepartmental teams, it works really well," Peacor said. "This will help make sure we have standardized controls in place for all county employees."

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