Utech yields status as city minority firm


The president of Utech, the embattled Baltimore contractor under state investigation for her ties to City Council President Sheila Dixon, has surrendered her firm's minority certification status with the city.

With Mildred E. Boyer already banned for two years from bidding on city construction work for misrepresenting her firm's abilities, her decision all but eliminates Utech from doing any city work.

The stamp of minority certification allows small firms such as Utech to be hired by bigger companies looking to meet city goals for including minorities and women on city contracts.

Boyer surrendered her minority certification status in a letter written Monday and made public by the city yesterday, the day that her status was set to expire.

The renewal depended on Boyer's ability to prove to Baltimore officials that she was honoring city subcontracts with her own employees rather than hiring others to do most of her work. Such pass-through arrangements are prohibited by the city's minority business law, a centerpiece of Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration.

The city's demands for such proof came after articles in The Sun detailed that Utech, which had employed Dixon's sister, was using other firms for the bulk of its computer and construction contracts.

Subpoenas issued

State prosecutors also were prompted to issue grand jury subpoenas to several city agencies, Dixon, Utech and the two city contractors that had hired Boyer's firm as a minority subcontractor - Comcast Corp. and TeleCommunications Systems Inc. of Annapolis.

The Sun also reported that Dixon participated in votes that benefited the firm without disclosing her sister's Utech job. The ethics law requires officials to abstain from actions involving relatives and to disclose jobs of family members that might pose a conflict.

In her letter this week to the city, Boyer depicts herself as a victim while also acknowledging some responsibility for her firm's recent misfortunes, which followed several prosperous years under the city's minority business program.

'Good old boys'

She wrote that she started her wiring and information technology business seven years ago even though she knew she was "entering a field dominated by 'good old boys.'"

"I steeled myself, devised a plan, saved a little money and went out on my own," she wrote. "Over these past years, I have found that starting a small business is difficult under the best of circumstances but particularly difficult and challenging to a young Black woman who wanted to be taken seriously as a business person."

She also wrote in the letter to Thomas B. Corey, chief of the city's minority business opportunity office, that those challenges resulted "in some successes and some decisions that were, on hindsight, ill advised."

She wrote that she would reapply for the status of a certified minority firm in 12 months after reassessing her business plan.

"I have decided that it is best that I take the time to review my business plan, revisit my goals and objectives, reestablish my good name with the people who have tried to help me and return to the city as a subcontractor in the near future," she wrote.

Boyer has never returned repeated phone calls from The Sun. But in an e-mail she sent in March to dozens of people, including top city officials and prominent business leaders, Boyer denied that she has done anything wrong.

Wrongdoing denied

"Over the past several weeks articles have appeared in the Baltimore Sun newspaper that have brought my personal integrity and that of my company, Utech, into question," Boyer wrote in the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Sun. "This letter is intended to inform you that I deny any wrongdoing on my part and that of my company."

The city found otherwise.

Last month, the five-member Board of Estimates, controlled by O'Malley and chaired by Dixon, stripped Utech of its right to bid on construction work for two years.

The board had given her that right a year ago after the city qualified Utech to perform up to $8 million of construction work.

But a review by the city that followed The Sun's articles revealed that Utech had submitted "falsified and inaccurate financial statements" to obtain the formal qualification.

Electrical work

Utech also performed electrical work for Ronald H. Lipscomb's Doracon Contracting.

Lipscomb is a prominent developer, an O'Malley political ally and a friend of Dixon.

Doracon hired Utech as an electrical subcontractor even though Boyer, nor no known Utech employee, had electrical expertise.

Instead, Boyer subcontracted the work, worth a total of nearly $1 million, to an independent electrical company at two of Doracon's largest projects - Frankford Estates in East Baltimore and Silo Point in Locust Point.

Both projects received substantial city assistance and were subject to the minority inclusion law.

The law prohibits subcontractors from farming out more than 10 percent of their contracts, a provision aimed at preventing contractors from using front firms to meet minority targets.

"According to the financial information that was submitted [by Utech], total income for 2004 was $1,203,854 and the amount to subcontractors was $725,574, or 60 percent," states a Feb. 10 letter to Boyer from the city's minority business opportunity office.

Utech is also facing legal action by an Atlanta loan company that is seeking money it lent the firm in 2002.

The firm, Action Capital, claims that Doracon and Utech failed to honor their agreement to pay back more than $400,000. Doracon has countered that if the court rules in Action Capital's favor, only Utech should be held responsible for paying back the money.

Arnold Jolivet, president of Maryland Minority Contractors Association and a Boyer spokesman, said he blames the city for not alerting her to Utech's breaches of the law until after media reports. He said the city allowed Utech to prosper in the minority subcontracting program without ever providing the guidance it needed to stay within the rules.

"If she was doing things that didn't comport with the rules the city should have flagged it, called her in and informed her on how to correct it," Jolivet said. "The city makes up the rules as they go along."

City Solicitor Ralph S. Tyler said yesterday that he does not know why Utech's problems were not caught sooner, nor does he know if city officials are trying to review their procedures.


In articles on Friday and Sunday, The Sun misidentified the group represented by Arnold Jolivet. He is president of the American Minority Contractors and Businesses Association Inc. in Washington.The Sun regrets the errors.
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