- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2000

Metro officials said they have lost the original version of a letter critical to an investigation of the hiring of a highly paid consultant without the approval of the Metro Board of Directors.

In the letter, consultant Wayman H. "Ray" Lytle offers to help Panagiotis P. "Takis" Salpeas in his new position as assistant general manager at Metro. The letter includes a handwritten note from Mr. Salpeas asking Gail Charles, assistant general manager for administration, to hire Mr. Lytle.

Copies of the letter show scratched-out words in Mr. Salpeas' note. A Metro employee familiar with the Lytle contract said Mr. Salpeas scratched out the words "my boy" and substituted "Lytle" in asking that his long-time colleague be hired.

Mr. Salpeas has denied that the scratched-out portion says "my boy" and told The Washington Times it says "Mr. Ray."

The Metro board is investigating Mr. Salpeas' awarding of a noncompetitive, $100,000 consulting contract to Mr. Lytle in October 1998. Over 14 months, the contract's value grew to $333,000 without the board's or General Manager Richard White's knowledge.

Metro Board Chairman Gladys Mack began the investigation last month at the behest of D.C. Council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat and a board member, after The Times showed him copies of the contracting documents.

Metro officials provided The Times with only a photocopy of the letter, despite requests for the original document since Jan. 21.

When shown Mr. Salpeas' written comments, Mr. Graham said he believes Mr. Salpeas asked "my buddy" be hired rather than "my boy."

"I can't believe they gave you this," Mr. Graham said after seeing a photocopy of the document.

Mrs. Mack said that board members have been briefed about the contract and allowed to express their concerns about the way the contract was executed. "Their concerns were that we close any gaps so this doesn't happen again," she said.

Metro officials repeatedly have said the original document cannot be found. "I don't know where it is," Mr. White said.

Mrs. Mack said she was not aware that the original letter from Mr. Lytle was missing but was sure the inspector general would address that.

"Our major concern was the action itself," she said.

Mr. Salpeas, who had been on the job only 11 days, hired Mr. Lytle in a $100,000 part-time contract that later increased to a $333,065 full-time contract.

Mr. White terminated the contract last month after The Times inquired about it. By that time, Mr. Lytle had been paid more than $275,000 on the contract.

Metro's procurement regulations allow its officials to increase a contract's value in increments equal to its original value as long as funds from Metro's capital improvement budget are used.

Such increases do not have to be cleared by the Metro board or general manager.

Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann said the board has met in executive session, where a list of other consultants was provided. The results of the inspector general's investigation were not presented.

Mr. Feldmann said the list of other consultants was not immediately available because some information needed to be redacted.

A Metro employee said original documents usually are kept for three years in a file room and should be returned after they are used. He said he did not know where the document went.

Employees familiar with the contract said the letter's reference to "my boy" or "my buddy" shows that Mr. Salpeas, assistant general manager for Transit System Development, pressured procurement employees to hire Mr. Lytle.

Mr. Lytle was paid $165 an hour as a consultant despite the objections of Metro auditors who said the fee was too high.

"There was pressure put on them because they knew it [was] Takis' boy," said a Metro employee familiar with the contract. "He wanted him and he got him."

Mr. Salpeas, 49, said he has known Mr. Lytle, 77, for years as Ray rather than Wayman. He said he started to write hire "Mr. Ray" but scratched that out and wrote "Lytle" above it.

Mr. Lytle's Sept. 30, 1998, letter to Mr. Salpeas was written soon after after Mr. Salpeas had joined Metro on Sept. 21. Mr. Lytle, a retired federal transit official, said in the letter he would be glad to assist Mr. Salpeas.

In a margin, Mr. Salpeas wrote a note on Oct. 2, 1998, to Miss Charles, saying, "I'd appreciate Lytle added (temp. basis) to staff … in support of TSDV for 2 days a week."

By Oct. 29, 1998, Mr. Lytle's contract was approved and he was on the job.

"Normally, it takes weeks or months to get through a contract unless somebody high up wants someone on," said an employee. "This is not normal."

Mr. Salpeas said he expedited Mr. Lytle's contract because he knew Mr. Lytle was a procurement expert and he needed Mr. Lytle's help immediately to develop a design-and-build contract for the Vienna, Va., Metrorail parking garage and the Branch Avenue rail yard.

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