- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

The Metropolitan Police Department will begin investigating its contract with an automobile auction house that police contracting officials did not know has a history of falsifying documents, following inquiries by The Washington Times.
The department's fleet management hired Colonial Auction Services Inc. of Upper Marlboro, Md., six months ago to sell old vehicles without checking the company's background or monitoring auctions to see that the cars were sold at a fair price.
Colonial has been banned from bidding on Metro contracts because its owner falsified auction documents in the early 1990s. Many charities have refused to use Colonial after a 1998 Charles County probe found that the company had lost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for government agencies and eight charities
Meanwhile, D.C. Council members Kathy Patterson and David Catania said they will ask the city procurement department to investigate the police department's $3.5 million contract with Serco, a car maintenance company.
The Times reported yesterday the mismanaged contract has cost nearly $900,000 more than budgeted. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey said the contract "was not managed right and priorities were not set… . It was a poorly written contract. I didn't realize how bad it was until we were halfway through the year."
The chief said managers of the department's fleet of vehicles did not monitor work being done by Serco, which accrued unnecessary charges in fixing minor dents instead of repairing only major body damage. In the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Serco billed the department nearly $900,000 more than police officials budgeted for car repairs.
The budget overrun consumed funds for repairing older police vehicles and for putting into service new vehicles in need of decals, light bars and radios.
"This certainly concerns me," said Mrs. Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat and chairman of the Government Operations Committee. "My question is, if the chief did not know of this mess until six months into the year, what happened during the last six months? There are some inquiries I'll be making."
"I talked to Chief about this contract [in February] and shared my concerns about the inefficiencies of this contract," said Mr. Catania, at-large Republican and a longtime critic of the police department. "The council was told everything was fine."
Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the police department needs to control or fire Serco.
Serco manager Dave Tetreault has said he cannot comment on the contract or its cost overrun.
Mrs. Patterson said she also will ask city procurement officials to look into the police department's hiring of Colonial to sell its old vehicles.
Police officials including Chief Ramsey, corporate services Director Eric Coard and business services Director Brender Gregory said they were not aware of Colonial's legal problems before entering the contract.
Preston A. Englert, president of the Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area, said his charity quit doing business with Colonial in 1998, when the company's owner and a bookkeeper were charged with theft.
"I would have thought [D.C. police] would have talked to some of their colleagues," Mr. Englert said of the police department's failure to check Colonial's background.
"They should have checked it out. It reflects poor decision [making]," Mr. Brazil said.
The police department's Office of Professional Responsibilities will begin an investigation into the contract, following inquiries by The Times, Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said yesterday.
"We are doing background checks on everybody involved in [Colonial]," Chief Gainer said. "We will be checking with other law enforcement agencies about them. It is something we need to do with a lot of our contractors and vendors."
Officials said the department began using Colonial to sell old cars at the urging of Serco. Previously, the department itself auctioned off 20 to 50 old cars almost every month.
Mr. Coard said they began using Colonial as part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' (COG) contract with the auction house. He said no one investigated Colonial because COG already used the company.
But Metro Transit Police Deputy Chief Polly Hanson said her department won't use the company, despite the COG contract.
Chief Hanson said a 1991 Transit Police probe found that Colonial falsified title documents and company owner Melvin Richards pleaded guilty to those charges in Anne Arundel County.
"We are not going to have a contractual relationship with him knowing he has falsified documents," Chief Hanson said. "He has a past. We are well aware of it because we investigated it."
Mr. Richards received one year of probation and his record was expunged, said his attorney, Tim Maloney.
Court records show Mr. Richards was charged on Oct. 5, 1998, with 56 counts of theft in Anne Arundel County for underpaying vehicles auctioned for six charities and several government agencies. The Charles County Sheriff's Department determined that Colonial was cheating the organizations.
The charges against Mr. Richards were dropped after his bookkeeper, Alene F. Hinebaugh, was accused of embezzling from the charities and the agencies.
Her trial on five counts of theft is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

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