Mayor’s former tech chief at center of attack over bid irregularities

Comptroller Joan Pratt says Rico Singleton violated city rules to install VIP video phones.

Rico Singleton’s office “suite”

Rico Singleton’s new office turns out to be a mailbox at The UPS Store on Lombard and South streets.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Following his forced resignation in February as chief of the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology (MOIT), Rico Singleton has been contacting and lobbying his former colleagues at MOIT on behalf of technology companies.

Singleton operates as RS Consulting, whose main office is listed as Suite 182 at 211 East Lombard St. The address turns out to be a UPS Store. The manager of the store confirmed that Singleton rents box 182.

Singleton is also the resident agent of Novetsoph Consulting LLC that was incorporated six weeks ago.

UPDATE: Mayor’s office releases cost breakdown of new phones.

In an angry outburst on Wednesday, City Comptroller Joan Pratt said Singleton was involved in city software and information technology contracts since he resigned under a cloud four months ago.

Pratt later read portions of an email from Singleton to acting MOIT Director Robert Minor saying that he was an advisor to IT companies doing business with the city.

Joan Pratt reads portions of an email from Rico Singleton to MOIT to two reporters after the Board of Estimates meeting. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Joan Pratt reads portions of an email from Rico Singleton to MOIT after the Board of Estimates meeting. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Singleton further said he could not bid directly on city work because of conflict-of-interest rules involving ex-employees.

The email indicated that Singleton was involved in top-of-the-line Cisco video phones recently installed in the offices of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other city officials.

Singleton was removed on Feb. 28 as Chief Information Officer and director of MOIT by Rawlings-Blake after an audit found that, at his previous job as deputy chief information officer for New York State, he had negotiated for a job for his girlfriend and tried to get a position with a computer vendor he had hired.

The contract with software security company McAfee was unnecessary, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, and cost taxpayers $1.5 million.

At the time, Rawlings-Blake called the New York State allegations “deeply disturbing” and said they were not known by her office when Singleton was hired in late 2010.

Singleton, whose hires as MOIT director raised eyebrows, dropped out of sight after tendering his resignation from the $160,000 city post. He could not be located yesterday.

“Illegal” Contract

The contract under fire by Pratt was first reported in The Brew last January. It involved the Board of Estimates award of $12 million to 11 technology companies for computer hardware and software for city agencies.

Digicon Corp., based in Rockville and Herndon, Va., was awarded the largest share of the contract, $3.2 million. According to Pratt, funds from this contract were used to install the video phones for City Hall, which, she said, cost taxpayers $659,000 during a time of budget cutbacks.

“None of the items of the contract allow for the purchase of telephone equipment,” Pratt added.

Pratt said that overseeing telephone service for city government is the duty of her office under a 1949 law. “The mayor is trying to usurp the responsibility of the comptroller’s office,” she said.

Several times Pratt accused Rawlings-Blake of telling “an untruth” about her lack of knowledge of the phone installations. Pratt said the mayor evaded her when she tried to express her concerns directly.

“I was told you were out of town,” Rawlings-Blake said.

“I called you on the phone. You never called [back],” Pratt responded.

“Baseless Attacks,” says Mayor’s Spokesman

Ryan O’Doherty, the mayor’s spokesman, disputed the cost of the phones. He placed the cost of the trial installation at about $20,000.

In response to Pratt’s allegations, O’Doherty said yesterday, “The city solicitor has advised that there are no factual or legal merits to the allegations made [by Pratt]. . . Obviously, the mayor is disappointed with the baseless personal attacks that were made.”

Mayor Rawlings-Blake listens to Pratt's criticism at the Board of Estimates meeting. At far right is City Solicitor George Nilson. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Mayor Rawlings-Blake listens to Pratt’s criticism at the Board of Estimates. To her left is City Solicitor George Nilson. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Pratt delivered her remarks with uncharacteristic vigor at the weekly Board of Estimates meeting. She often turned to face the mayor with whom she shares the dais.

The mayor avoided eye contact and stared stoically at the rear of the room. At one point, she interjected, “I’m very proud of the work MOIT has done, saving taxpayers money.”

$7.5 Million IBM Contract Deferred

In addition to the Digicon contract, Pratt clashed with the mayor over a $7.5 million telecommunications contract that was before the board on Wednesday.

The board was scheduled to award the contract to upgrade the city’s telecommunications system to IBM. Pratt asked that it be deferred for one week. The contract was instead delayed for three weeks at the request of the mayor.

Following the board meeting, Pratt continued to denounce the “illegal” video phones installed in the mayor’s office until she was silenced by her longtime aide, Danice H. Lewis.

Documents Not Released

Lewis maneuvered Pratt to a side exit and later promised that the comptroller would release all relevant documents after she met with Rawlings-Blake later in the morning.

Pratt has since reversed course.

Declining to release any documents or emails yesterday, the comptroller said through another aide that she will defer public comment until she meets with Rawlings-Blake at some unspecified future date.

(Rawlings-Blake is currently in Orlando, Fla., where she will speak on crime prevention and several other topics today at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.)

Sitting between Pratt and Rawlings-Blake at Wednesday’s meeting was Council President Jack Young.

Asked by Pratt if he had a new video desktop phone at his office, Young said he did. He quickly added that he had not requested the phone, but it simply appeared one day.

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  • freddie

    What petty nonsense that passes for news. This continual assault on city hall is becoming tedious and boring.

    • Sal Brunacini

      Petty? if you dont keep tabs on these people they will get away with murder! plus, at a time of economic hardship, should they really be spending money on frivolous things such as video phones? especially when were a couple weeks away from losing 3 fire companies and numerous rec centers? these things are not petty, and the Brew is the only media outlet that isnt afraid to put all the facts on the table.

      • Kramer

        Same article in Sun today. Yes, $20,000 in the scheme of things is petty. Sounds more like a turf war than anything else.

    • David Kennedy

      i agree with you freddie;  it’s only money.  lots of money.  city hall gets criticized because that’s the spending occurs.  here’s an idea:  why don’t you take your entire paycheck, assuming you work, and hand-deliver it to the Mayor when you get it;  and continue on with not wasting your time having to think about where it gets wasted.

      • baltimorebrew

        From editors: Just a request that commenters try and settle on one screen name if possible. It’s a little weird, when you think about it, that we’re having this conversation via screens, keyboards and anonymous handles. Sticking to one anonymous handle at least makes things a bit less vaporous! Thanks! fs

  • Kramer

    Cat fight, yeah!!

  • Cindy

    I would sugest that this is just the tip of the iceburg and that Pratt may feel that there is serious threat of an audit coming.  What would have been overlooked is now becoming a case of fraud in which she could be implicated.  It’s much different when light is shining on these transactions.  It’s the accountability that has been missing for what Carl Stokes said is 40 years.  We will see more of this as audits by the public, media, and watchdogs pressure this city council to move away from all these subcontracting and business tax credit deals, bringing city money back to the people and communities.

  • Tom Kiefaber

    baltimorebrew: Why not insist on all online commenters using their actual identities on your site? That would certainly inhibit those who cowardly inhabit multiple cloaked identities in order to disingenuously game the open forum process. With simple individual accountability, this online forum can become an open and transparent exchange of information and opinions.     

    • Pj

      Anonymous commentary has a long and proud tradition in this country dating back to The Federalist Papers.

  • William

    It’s probably just me but I miss Sheila and I would gladly contribute a gift card to have her back. 

    • Janice

      Me too because I never wanted Stephanie Rawlings-FAKE as Mayor. She is not a Mayor that if for the citizens of Baltimore.  As long as she is Mayor she will take as much from taxpayers as she can because she doesn’t care.

  • Kim Trueheart

    Children PLEASE ….

  • Baltimoreplaces

    Time time for a petition to put up a new sign in front of city hall…  CAUTION Children at Play

  • Gerald Neily

    Don’t scoff at turf wars. Half of what most governments do is turf wars. The scope of the Mayor’s power is at the heart of what Baltimore’s government is all about, now covering everything from who runs the buses to what beverages we should drink. The charter mandated and voter elected Comptroller gets shoved farther and farther into the background, and the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology is shoving it farther. And Sheila Dixon was hardly a stranger to turf wars either.

  • Fire and Metal

    Here here for Comptroller Pratt for exposing this waste of taxpayer money.  As Mayor Failings Blake raises taxes, closes fire companys, recreation centers and summer youth jobs she spend money frivolosly on her office.  Will any of this really help her in her goal of attracring 10,000 families to move into Baltimore?  No, this type of Mayoral mismanagment and arrogance will push more families out of the city. 

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