A D.C. Department of Public Works engineer was arrested by the FBI yesterday and charged with soliciting and accepting a $5,000 bribe to ensure that an electrical engineering firm was awarded a $691,000 contract for work at the Blue Plains Water Treatment plant.
Dorbhala R. Sarma, 46, of 8741 Shadown Lawn Ct., Annadale, was arrested about 11 a.m. outside the Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW after he allegedly took the money from an FBI agent, whom he believed to be a representative of the MMR/Foley electrical contracting company, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court here.
Sarma, a city engineer for 18 years, was charged with accepting a bribe in performance of his official duties, which carries a maximum 15-year prison term and a fine of $250,000. He was released on personal recognizance after appearing before U.S. Magistrate Jean F. Dwyer, who set a March 14 preliminary hearing.
Public Works Department spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said last night that Sarma has been placed on administrative leave from his $45,000-a-year job in the department's facilities maintenance division.
Hamilton said the contract allegedly involved in the bribery scheme was for routine annual maintenance of electrical facilities at the Blue Plains plant.
Representatives of MMR/Foley could not be reached for comment last night.
According to the criminal complaint, MMR/Foley was notified in December that it had won the one-year contract, but before the award was made final, the firm received a call from Sarma, who said that more documentation was needed on the company's affirmative action program.
Sarma met Dec. 29 to discuss the contract with Rick Bassett, an MMR/Foley employee, and allegedly said that for $4,000 he would ensure that the questions about the affirmative action program were answered.
The company ignored Sarma's alleged request for $4,000, according to the complaint, and filed written answers about its hiring program on Jan 4. A week later, MMR/Foley was notified its responses were not adequate and that the company had to submit an acceptable affirmative action plan or lose the contract.
Sarma called the same day, reiterating the Public Works Department's position on the affirmative action program, and MMR/Foley immediately prepared and submitted clarifications, according to the complaint.
Four days later, Sarma notified the firm that its contract had been approved because of his efforts and said that "MMR/Foley owed him."
At a meeting on Feb. 5 with MMR/Foley Vice President Robert Van Ness and an FBI agent posing as a company official, Sarma allegedly asked for $4,000 to $5,000 for providing assistance in obtaining the contract. Yesterday, Sarma delivered the signed contract to the FBI agent, who then handed him $5,000.