- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The former $232,500-per-year president of shipping and mailing for the U.S. Postal Service regularly worked on outside corporate business while in the office, even enlisting his postal staff to schedule meetings and arrange for his private travel, postal investigators have found.

Robert Bernstock also helped steer millions of dollars in no-bid postal contracts to former business associates he knew from his days as a top executive at companies such as pickle producer Vlasic Foods and lawn care giant Scotts Miracle-Gro, according to a new report by the office of inspector general for the U.S. Postal Service and contract records.

The Washington Times first reported in January that Mr. Bernstock received more than $250,000 in outside corporate board fees at the same time he worked full time for the Postal Service, an arrangement that postal officials said they approved.

When The Times inquired about Mr. Bernstock’s outside business activities in December, postal officials said he used personal time and vacation days to conduct business involving his directorship positions at Nutrisystem and Pantry Inc., a convenience store chain.

The inspector general’s office concluded otherwise.

The report found that Mr. Bernstock had “improperly utilized Postal Service employees and property to conduct his outside business interests,” including having postal staff work on matters involving a business he owned called City Barbeque.

Mr. Bernstock, reached by phone at his home in Ohio, declined to discuss findings in the inspector general’s report, saying only that he was proud to have worked for Postmaster General John E. Potter and his team.

“I’ve moved on and the Postal Service has moved on,” Mr. Bernstock said.

Postal officials declined to comment on findings in the inspector general’s report. The inspector general’s findings were reported by the Federal Times, which has previously reported on contracts involving Mr. Bernstock and various former business associates.

As a director for two publicly traded companies, Mr. Bernstock was paid $112,498 in stock and cash at Nutrisystem last year, and $155,799 from Pantry Inc., according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

At the Postal Service, he earned a $232,500 salary and was awarded an $85,000 hiring bonus and an $85,000 retention bonus, records show. He worked for the Postal Service for about two years.

Mr. Potter allowed Mr. Bernstock to participate in board teleconferences for Pantry Inc. and Nutrisystem while at work for the Postal Service, the report said.

Mr. Potter told investigators that Mr. Bernstock’s corporate meetings were to last between 30 minutes and an hour. He said if Mr. Bernstock had to conduct the meetings elsewhere, he would have had to travel back and forth from a hotel to participate.

He said he did not give any approval for Mr. Bernstock to use staff on private business activities. Mr. Bernstock told an investigator that Mr. Potter “authorized him to use his Postal Service office, computer equipment and telephone system.” Mr. Potter, however, said he only gave Mr. Bernstock permission to transfer messages he couldn’t read on his BlackBerry to his Postal Service e-mail account to read, according to the report.

The Postal Service’s top attorney, Mary Anne Gibbons, told investigators she thought there were two sets of rules governing the so-called “de minimis” policies on the use of postal equipment for outside activities: one rule for hourly employees and another for executive employees such as Mr. Bernstock.

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