- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is parting ways with the company that has handled pest control at Orleans Parish Prison for more than a decade.

The sheriff’s office solicited bids for a new extermination contract about four months after The New Orleans Advocate questioned the cost of pest control services provided by DA Exterminating, run by one of Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s most generous campaign contributors.

The newspaper reports (https://bit.ly/N6YnxO ) DA Exterminating charged about $200,000 annually. From 2010 through early 2013, it says the parish spent more than 40 times what Jefferson Parish spent at its jail, which holds about half as many inmates as New Orleans’ prison.

Last week, the sheriff’s office awarded the new contract to Orkin, a national, Atlanta-based company which bid about $85,000 a year, with additional charges for special treatments.

It was unclear when the sheriff’s office had last sought competitive prices for the work.

DA Exterminating, which has been spraying the jail since 2001, maintained the high billings were justified because technicians had to treat multiple dilapidated buildings and often performed additional termite treatments on top of a “massive bedbug project.”

The Metairie company is owned by Jed D’Arensbourg, a Gusman supporter who has donated at least $34,500 to his campaigns since 2004 personally and through his firms.

The new contract rate was 27 percent cheaper than DA Exterminating’s bid of $117,600, and less than half of what DA has been charging in recent years. However, the proposals are difficult to compare because DA indicated it would not assess additional charges for special treatments, whereas Orkin said it will.

“They should have an easier time than we did given the newly built structures that have come online at OPP versus the pest challenges that we had with so many older structures,” said Chris Caire, DA Exterminating’s vice president, referring to buildings such as a new 1,438-bed jail slated to open in May.

Gusman was not required under state law to bid the contract because pest control is considered a professional service. But the sheriff’s efforts to seek competition earned him kudos from a team of court-appointed experts overseeing the implementation of a federal consent decree governing operations of the jail. In a recent progress report, the experts cited the bidding process as among the “positive steps” Gusman has taken toward bringing the jail into compliance.

The consent decree is designed to overhaul the jail and reverse its unconstitutionally inhumane conditions.

The same experts reported “several issues with insects” after a recent tour of the jail, noting that sandwiches intended for inmates had become “infested with hundreds of fruit flies.”

Those findings were reminiscent of a 2009 U.S. Department of Justice report that documented the widespread presence of mice, cockroaches and other rodents at the lockup, despite the sheriff’s heavy spending on pest control.

Though significantly cheaper than DA, Orkin’s bid was not the lowest submitted.

Fischer Environmental, of Mandeville, offered to perform the work for $45,480 a year, and with lower costs for special treatments. But Orkin’s proposal stood out because overall it ranked highest in four categories - scope, price, history and experience - used by two sheriff’s office officials and an industry expert to evaluate the bids, said Philip Stelly, a Gusman spokesman.

Orkin also directly addressed the provisions of the court-ordered consent decree, Stelly said, which calls for “adequate pest control throughout the housing units” and spraying at least once a quarter.

“It sounds like it was a very good process that they went through,” Stelly said of the request for proposals, which began in November.

D’Arensbourg is also a close friend of John Sens, Gusman’s former purchasing director, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison last year for orchestrating a bid-rigging and kickback scheme at the sheriff’s office. Sens admitted to running a scheme in which he would approve bids submitted along with phony bids and take kickbacks for doling out contracts in and around the jail.

Federal prosecutors have not alleged any fraud in the pest-control billings at the jail, and Gusman has said he took measures to improve bidding processes after the kickback scheme was exposed.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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