Lawsuit illuminates corruption and crackdowns in City Hall and implicates top officials. A Guardian special report
Brady calls the corruption allegation "a big lie," and says his company's name has been wrongfully sullied. He says Armstrong led him to believe Monarch Enterprises was an Internet company performing training, support, and computer security upgrades as a subcontractor. The bills came in, and Cobra believed it was responsible for paying for the service, Brady said. "We mailed the checks, and never thought about it."
Before the trouble started, Cobra Solutions was in a growth phase, having gone from four employees to 35 in just a few years. James and Debra Brady moved from Colorado to San Francisco in the late 1980s with nothing. James Brady worked as a manager in several SROs, became a member of the Tenderloin Merchant's Association and helped establish a credit union serving low-income residents.
The couple established TeleCon Ltd. and started out as city subcontractors providing voicemail services. At first, they had very limited resources. "Prior to being able to afford an office, Debra frequently used the telephones in the women's lounge at Nordstrom to conduct business," according to her bio.
Cobra was established after Vincent-James urged the Bradys to submit a bid for an upcoming contract. The city had opened up a Request for Proposals (RFP) for vendors who wanted to be admitted to the Computer Store, an entity created to speed up municipal orders for technical services.
Before then, it could take six months for the city to purchase so much as a desktop computer. A Human Rights Commission vetting process, designed to ensure that city contractors adhered to environmental and social justice criteria, caused long delays. Then-City Purchaser Ed Lee created the Computer Store to solve this logistical challenge. Vendors who applied for membership were vetted in the RFP (minority-owned businesses were given preference), admitted as certified contractors, and granted preference by city departments in need of IT services.
Cobra's first departmental contract through the Computer Store was a $1.3 million agreement to provide technical services for DBI, working with Armstrong. Things got off to a rough start.
"We could never find the guy, he would never be at work, and when we did see him, he was complaining," Brady recounted. According to Cobra's complaint, "it ran into a series of disputes with DBI and Armstrong over the scope of work and particular payment issues," and Cobra was eventually awarded a settlement reflecting services it provided after Armstrong changed the scope of the work.
Brady says he sought city help in dealing with Armstrong. According to Cobra's complaint, he appealed for assistance to COIT, which oversaw the Computer Store. Cobra's relationship with Armstrong soon soured, and the DBI deal dissolved.
According to the description of Vincent-James, "The relationship between James Brady ... and Marcus got worse ... Marcus got another company involved because James Brady would not do what Marcus wanted to do."
The other company was GCSI.
Things got better for the Bradys before they got worse. Cobra became one of the city's largest technology services providers, netting $14.5 million in contracts with various city agencies by 2003. They relocated to a nicer, more spacious office in the Financial District.
A partnership with IBM granted them access to higher credit limits than ever. The couple had a home custom-built in El Sobrante. When GCSI vanished without a trace, Vincent-James called on Cobra to hire some of the GCSI subcontractors who had gotten burned in the process, according to a deposition from former city purchaser Judith Blackwell.
By 2003, the Public Integrity Task Force's DBI investigation was in full swing, but Brady didn't know it. He says he started experiencing problems getting paid, yet couldn't get an explanation from city agencies.