Dirty business - Page 5

Lawsuit illuminates corruption and crackdowns in City Hall and implicates top officials. A Guardian special report

A top city official testified that then-Purchaser Ed Lee improperly approved a city contract with a "fraudulent" company

Meanwhile, Cobra had received the highest Human Rights Commission score of any bidder for a renewal on the Computer Store contract, an HRC document shows. Brady received a letter stating that his company would be awarded a new Computer Store contract — but shortly after, he got a second letter reversing that award.

Judith Blackwell, who oversaw city purchasing under Brown's administration, explained why during her deposition with Leigh. After Cobra's bid evaluation, Blackwell testified, her office moved to award the contract — but the controller intervened, saying Cobra shouldn't be awarded a new contract because of the Armstrong scandal. Blackwell wasn't willing to throw Cobra out, however.

"I learned from watching politics that I cannot afford to bend the rules," Blackwell testified. "If I step outside the precise boundaries in any way, or if any African American administrator does, they are probably not going to be interpreted in the same way as if anyone else did it. Based on the ... procurement code, there is no way that I could, as the purchasing director, just throw them out."

Blackwell testified that Zmuda requested that she sign paperwork denying Cobra the contract, and Blackwell received a warning when she refused. "She told me that I needed to remember that when [Mayor Brown] was gone that they, the Controller's Office, and [Chief of Staff Steve Kawa] — I knew that is what she was implying — were in charge," Blackwell said. Once Mayor Gavin Newsom replaced Brown, Blackwell was let go. She now lives in New York City.

Blackwell testified that losing her job came as a surprise, since she'd worked on Newsom's campaign and expected to keep her position. "I had asked him something about why it happened and he said ... he knew nothing about it and people were acting without, you know, basically not at his direction," Blackwell testified. "I said, well, Mayor Newsom, you are in charge. And his response was, oh, I wish that were so." 



GCSI — a company accused of defrauding the city after improperly being given a city contract by Ed Lee, allegedly at the urging of then-Mayor Willie Brown — is long gone.

"I don't think they're around," Nancy Fineman, an attorney representing the city, told the Guardian. "We've just been focused on Cobra and TeleCon."

The story of how GCSI came to be a city contractor may be the most fascinating part of this case, one that could have repercussions today, even though it happened in the late-1990s.

Like Cobra Solutions, GCSI was a contractor with the city's Computer Store — gaining admission after being repeatedly rejected by city staff, according to a 2008 deposition with former COIT director Deborah Vincent-James, who has died.

Vincent-James testified that GCSI didn't meet the minimum qualifications and recounted how, during an interview with city officials about the bid, a member of the City Attorney's Office noticed a wire peeking out from the suit of a GCSI representative who had been surreptitiously taping the meeting.

"San Francisco was not aware of GCSI's wrongful conduct, financial problems, or legal difficulties at the time it hired GCSI to work on the DBI projects," a city lawsuit claimed. Nor had the city realized that, "GCSI's president and owner had been arrested and imprisoned by a federal judge for contempt of court and for disbursing funds in an effort to avoid ...efforts to collect its loan."

GCSI principal Robert Fowler resided in both Washington, D.C., and California, was believed to be a citizen of Sweden, and was also the director and owner of a bank located on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, according to Herrera's complaint.