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Officials ban contractor from doing business with the city for 10 years

Baltimore officials have barred an information technology contractor from doing business with the city for 10 years after an investigation found that the company falsified invoices dozens of times and overbilled taxpayers $165,000.

The Board of Estimates voted unanimously Wednesday to block Investment Management Enterprise Inc. and its chief executive officer, Twyla Garrett, from competing for city contracts until 2026.

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The vote followed testimony Wednesday from Steven Potter, a city lawyer, who said Garrett's company attempted to deceive officials into paying for work that was never performed. The company was subcontracted to provide system engineers and other professionals to do work for the Mayor's Office of Information Technology.

"The scheme to overbill the city 43 times and steal over $165,000 of taxpayer money is probably the worst thing a government contractor can do," Potter said. "It's an attack on the integrity of the city's procurement process."

The board decided unanimously to debar Garrett, Investment Management Enterprise and any company for which she is a principal for a decade.

Garrett did not participate in the public hearing. Efforts to reach her or an attorney representing her were unsuccessful.

David Ralph, interim city solicitor, said Garrett contested the original debarment in May but withdrew her request for a hearing shortly before Wednesday's proceeding.

Investment Management Enterprise pleaded guilty in February to one count of theft in exchange for a felony charge against Garrett being dropped. The company was sentenced to three months of probation.

The city has received a check for more than $165,000 — the full amount of restitution owed.

Garrett and her company had been indicted on theft charges in 2015 for allegedly submitting false invoices from Jan. 1, 2013, to Jan. 15, 2015, charging the city for more than 1,000 hours of work that was not done.

The charges stemmed from an investigation by the city's inspector general into the mayor's technology office that began in March 2014. The inspector general concluded that the overbilling was not caught by the city because of inadequate contract management and oversight.

Potter noted that Garrett was the company's principal during the time it engaged in the overbilling.

No Baltimore officials were charged as a result of the investigation, but the head of the information technology office, Christopher Tonjes, resigned amid the probe after being placed on administrative leave. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing and was never found to be involved in any misconduct.

Potter said Garrett altered a 2012 email from Tonjes to her in an attempt to cast blame on him as investigators began probing. Investigators recovered the original email on Tonjes' hard drive. Potter brought copies of the original and the altered version to the hearing and displayed the documents on large poster boards.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that such cases led her to invest in the city's inspector general's office. She said she wanted to make sure "we have more inspectors to do more of this type of work."

"We depend on city employees and the public, if they see any waste, fraud or abuse, to bring that to our attention," the mayor said.

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Robert H. Pearre Jr., the city's inspector general, resigned last month. Rawlings-Blake said she does not anticipate selecting anyone to fill the position before her term ends in December.

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