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On another project, for which Fresh Public was paid $50,000, the company was tasked with spearheading a regionwide advertising campaign to boost morale of bus drivers. The company instead produced a single banner that hung in the Metro executive building, where bus drivers do not see it. The payment covered only the design, not the printing, of the banner.

The contracts were already a bone of contention, having prompted a complaint that reached the inspector general from a Washington-area business that said Metro was unnecessarily paying the California firm when Metro had an existing contract with a local advertising firm to handle such projects.

The inspector general determined that Metro used the existing contractor as a “pass-through” for the California firm to avoid a review of what amounted to a noncompetitive bid with Mr. Caposino’s firm. Transit officials increased the existing company’s contract amount so they could pay Fresh Public through an intermediary, the report said.

Metro essentially paid twice for the same task, and the local advertising firm ultimately produced the ad campaign targeting driver morale.

The report said the contract work could have been done in-house and was financed without review of the finished product.

It also said the written description of the project in Metro records had no connection to the project on which Mr. Caposino’s company had worked.

Further complicating matters, investigators said, Metro contracting information is kept in an unsecured filing cabinet in a hallway. The agency could not locate some records pertaining to the advertising contract.

About the time Metro moved to hire Mr. Caposino, a longtime employee in the communications department invoked Mr. Catoe’s “open door” policy in an attempt to meet with the general manager and blow the whistle on Ms. Wilson steering contracts to a friend.

But Mr. Catoe did not meet with the employee, identified in the report as Michael McBride, and instead told Ms. Wilson of the request. Mr. McBride was called to the supervisor’s office and was angrily accused of violating the chain of command, according to the report.

Weeks later, Mr. McBride was abruptly selected for termination as part of a reduction in force, even though his name wasn’t on earlier lists of employees to be laid off, according to investigators. The inspector general’s report said Ms. Wilson volunteered to inform him of the news personally and requested that police accompany her.

“During the notification, [Mr. McBride] claimed [Ms. Wilson] made a comment under [her]breath that this will teach him‘to mess with [me].’ However, no other person present at the time heard the comment,” the report said.

“The evidence supports [Mr. McBride’s] claim that he was RIF’d, in whole or in part, in retaliation for his complaints about [Ms. Wilson‘s] actions with respect to” the contracts, investigators concluded.

The transit agency rehired Mr. McBride after a Metro board member intervened because his work was considered indispensable.

Asked about the issues raised in the inspector general’s report, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel suggested in an email that the problems identified in the report were confined to the administration of Mr. Catoe.

“The key people involved are no longer employed at Metro. There are policies and procedures in place to prevent irregularities in hiring and procurement,” he said.