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Inspector general reports more overpayments, contract mismanagement at Baltimore Department of General Services

The Baltimore inspector general has found a second company overcharged the city by more than $100,000 and that employees in the Department of General Services rubber-stamped these inflated bills for years. City Hall is shown in 2019.
The Baltimore inspector general has found a second company overcharged the city by more than $100,000 and that employees in the Department of General Services rubber-stamped these inflated bills for years. City Hall is shown in 2019. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore inspector general has found a second company overcharged the city by more than $100,000 and that employees in the Department of General Services rubber-stamped these inflated bills for years.

In a report issued Tuesday, the inspector general said that Baltimore’s primary towing contractor overcharged the city by nearly $130,000 over five years, padding its bills with items listed as everything from “labor” to “administrative fees.” These extra charges violated terms of the company’s $1 million contract with the city. The contract set a flat rate for all services necessary to tow a vehicle.

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Further, the company billed a fee for vehicles that were “gone on arrival,” though that was not allowed by the contract.

The Department of General Services paid the bills without question, Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming wrote.

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One “high-level” general services employee told investigators he paid the bills because the tow company “practiced integrity,” Cumming wrote.

Cumming did not identify the employee or the towing company in her report. But she wrote the company won a $1 million contract on Dec. 24, 2014, to be the city’s primary tow operator. The city Board of Estimates agenda for that day lists the company as The Auto Barn Inc.

The owner and manager of the West Baltimore company did not return messages Tuesday seeking comment.

Inspector general's report

In her report, Cumming wrote that the company accountant gave various explanations for the charges, including new software that automatically generated rates, new employees unfamiliar with the terms of the contract, and tow dispatchers who made mistakes.

Department of General Services Director Chichi Nyagah-Nash replied to Cumming’s findings in a letter, saying one city employee was fired. She said her staff was working to retrain employees and reviewing procedures around the handling of contracts.

Nyagah-Nash declined identify the fired employee “because it is personal information” and declined to comment further.

The latest report brings to light further allegations of mismanaged contracts by the Fleet Management Division of the Department of General Services.

In July, Cumming issued a report finding the division overpaid by $160,000 another contractor accused of inflating bills for snow plows and services to city vehicles. An attorney for the contractor, Holabird Enterprises of Maryland Inc., has denied the allegations, and the city and company are suing each other.

The longtime chief of the fleet division, Robert W. Gibson, left city employment early this year — soon after the report was provided to the department’s director. Gibson cashed out his unused vacation, sick time and personal days to walk away with about $373,000 in compensation, making him the highest-paid city employee for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Baltimore Sun reporter Talia Richman contributed to this article.

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