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Postal officials gave varying accounts of ex-executive’s perks
Mr. Bernstock took home more than $270,000 in cash and other compensation combined in fiscal 2008 by serving on the corporate boards for weight-loss giant Nutrisystem Inc. and Pantry Inc., which runs the Kangaroo Express convenience store chain, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
The arrangements later came under scrutiny when the inspector general’s office said Mr. Bernstock was using postal staff and resources for his outside work, an arrangement Mr. Potter and others later said they did not permit.
“For compensation, Bernstock was to receive one of the highest salaries in the Postal Service, complete with recruitment and retention bonuses,” the inspector general’s office wrote in a memo summarizing the Potter interview. “Potter also agreed, after the lawyers vetted it, that Bernstock would be permitted to remain on two external boards.”
During her interview with the inspector general’s office, Ms. Gibbons said that at the time of Mr. Bernstock’s hiring, she was “unaware of any specific agreements Potter made with Bernstock regarding his outside interests.”
Ms. Gibbons said that before Mr. Bernstock started work, she recalled attending a meeting with Helen Grant, managing counsel of the Postal Service’s civil practice, who handles ethics matters; Anthony Vegliante, the Postal Service’s chief of human resources; and Mr. Potter about Mr. Bernstock’s desire to stay on outside corporate boards and participate in meetings and teleconferences.
Asked to comment on a letter prepared by Ms. Grant for Mr. Bernstock, Mr. Vegliante said he did not issue the letter to Mr. Bernstock, telling the inspector general’s office, “I don’t give ethics advice,” records show.
“According to Vegliante, there would not be any written expectations of employment given to someone at Bernstock’s level,” the memo summarizing Mr. Vegliante’s interview stated. “Bernstock is subject to ethical limitations, which were discussed with him, so a letter would not make any difference, according to Vegliante,” the memo said.
“The legal department did vet and offer an opinion on Mr. Bernstock’s board commitments that drove the Postal Service decision to allow Mr. Bernstock to continue to serve on boards,” spokeswoman Joanne Veto wrote in an e-mail to The Times.
“It would not be appropriate for the Postal Service to comment on statements out of context or without having personal knowledge of or participation,” she also wrote. “It should also be noted that the comments you forwarded demonstrate executives answering questions to the best of their knowledge and within their respective roles.”
The top postal officials also spoke to investigators about various ethics and conflict-of-interest rules during their interviews. Ms. Gibbons, for instance, said the subject of Mr. Bernstock’s potential ethics conflicts came up during a July 2008 meeting.
“She said his financial advisers trade all the time and she recalled thinking of someone in his role, meeting with customers, had to have a conflict because every company in the country is a customer,” the memo of the Gibbons interview states. “She instructed Grant to talk to OGE (the Office of Government Ethics) to see if there was some kind of blanket waiver for the very wealthy.”
On a separate ethics-related topic, Mr. Potter said during his interview that he never authorized Mr. Bernstock to use his staff to conduct outside business activities, saying only that he saw no problem if Mr. Bernstock occasionally transferred e-mails to his postal e-mail account to print out or read.
Concerning the so-called “deminimus use” policy governing the use of postal resources for personal activities, he said the policy refers to “limited use, like people taking calls from their family, or people working on your house. I don’t know how or where to draw the line. In the past, you had to pay for personal long distance calls from USPS phones, but now there is a deminimus rule.”
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