A former project manager of New Orleans'crime camera program testified Wednesday that a surveillance systemdeveloped by two local companies was unlike any he had seen in2003, the time when the city was seeking to establish a program tohelp curb violent crime.
Chris Drake said his months of research found no other companythat offered a system capable of supporting the wireless, citywideprogram that local officials envisioned. He said Dell Inc., whichwas among the companies he'd talked to, expressed a willingness towork to develop a system. But Drake said he was looking for someonewith a system ready to go - what he said he found with SouthernElectronics Supply Inc. and Active Solutions LLC.
The testimony came during the third week of a civil trialstemming from the companies' lawsuit alleging former citytechnology chief Greg Meffert and others tied to the technologyoffice misappropriated their system and conspired with Dell Inc. tosell it, seeing a huge market potential.
The defendants have denied the claims and sought to cast theplaintiffs as losers in a competitive business environment in whichtheir pricing and pace of installation cost them work with thecity.
Mayor Ray Nagin, who is also listed as a defendant, is on thelist of expected witnesses.
Drake was a project manager while working for Imagine Software,then a city vendor run by Mark St. Pierre. He said his boss was St.Pierre but he reported to Meffert on an "almost daily" basis andsaid Meffert assigned him tasks. Drake said he represented himselfat some point as working for the city. Drake said he even had acity e-mail address and business card, as did St. Pierre. But Drakesaid he used that city address strictly for city of NewOrleans-related business.
In 2004, with positive press surrounding a pilot camera projectthe plaintiffs were involved in, Drake said he recalled talkingwith St. Pierre about the potential for doing similar work with"other partners," besides the city - at that time, Imagine's onlyclient. Drake said St. Pierre was driving that push.
Drake, using his Imagine e-mail address, wrote a Dellrepresentative about the potential for packaging the plaintiffs'system into a product that he said would be more easily sellable toclients outside the city. Drake said he helped set up - and waspart of - a meeting that involved the Dell rep, Steve Reneker, andofficials with the plaintiff companies. He also recalled Active'sBrian Fitzpatrick declaring "early and often and loudly" thatFitzpatrick wanted everything discussed kept confidential and anondisclosure agreement signed immediately. Details involvingstorage, design and cost were discussed at the meeting, he said.Drake also recalled Reneker being in town a few weeks later andgiving him directions to Southern's office.
Earlier this year, a city inspector general's report raisedquestions about the relationships between the technology office,its contractors and subcontractors. The report, looking at dealingsover a five-year period, also found a "pervasive pattern ofdisregard" for procurement rules and contract oversight by theoffice.
Federal authorities in June confirmed a criminal investigationinvolving the office and crime camera contract. An attorney forMeffert has said Meffert is a target in that probe. St. Pierre hadpreviously acknowledged in an affidavit that he had been subpoenaedto appear before a grand jury.
Meffert had use of a credit card by another St. Pierre business,NetMethods, during part of his City Hall tenure. The plaintiffsclaim NetMethods was established as a competitor in August 2004,one month after they had signed their contract with the city.
Meffert testified Tuesday that his NetMethods work had nothingto do with crime cameras or the city.
Meffert also said he did not believe the plaintiffs had inventedany new technologies. He called Drake a "cheerleader" for theplaintiffs and said he now questions the veracity of statistics hesaid were provided by Drake to show crime reductions in the pilotprogram. Drake said Wednesday the figures were provided by thepolice.
Meffert denied ever seeking a piece of any crime cameracontract, and insisted he stuck with Southern and Active.
By 2006, Meffert said the plaintiffs wouldn't sell the citycameras over payment disputes. He said he signed a purchase orderwith Dell for a "handful" of cameras shortly before leaving CityHall in July 2006.
The inspector general's report said Veracent, a St. Pierrecompany the plaintiffs say was formed in January 2006, installedcameras.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun