Thursday, April 22, 2010

Environmental firm accused of 'egregious' overcharging of L.A. Unified School; Two school officials involved

It looks like the issues examined in "The Cartel" go well beyond New Jersey. (The movie is currently playing in Los Angeles at this theater.) I'm not the least bit surprised to discover corruption among school officials.

Environmental firm accused of 'egregious' overcharging of L.A. Unified School District
April 21, 2010

Officials have abruptly halted work with the firm that managed environmental work in the $19.5-billion school construction program of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The move arises from a critical district audit alleging that Palm Desert-based Questa Environmental Consulting repeatedly overcharged and that L.A. Unified managers looked the other way, resulting in more than $2.5 million in questionable billing.

The negative report comes in the wake of an unrelated indictment of a regional construction director on conflict-of-interest charges, tarring the nation’s largest school construction and modernization effort. Officials continue to characterize the overall construction program as clean and successful. To date, 87 of 131 new schools have been completed as well as thousands of modernization projects.

The audit from the office of the inspector general, quietly posted online earlier this month, accused Questa of billing for time unrelated to its district contract, charging higher hourly rates than justified and exceeding maximum annual billings, among other things.

The conduct was “so egregious,” said district Inspector General Jerry Thornton, that his office took the unusual step of recommending Questa’s termination as well as the discipline of two supervising district employees...

Auditors singled out two district managers for particular criticism. L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines suspended them with pay March 1 for more than a month, district officials said. A district spokesman confirmed the substance of the action, though not the specific details. Both employees have since returned to work pending further possible disciplinary action. ...

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