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Corbett orders staff to review 'integrity' of firms with turnpike contracts

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 3:15 p.m.

The state will scrutinize the business ethics of 16 companies named in a scathing grand jury report alleging corruption at the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Gov. Tom Corbett said on Thursday.

Corbett took immediate action against one, ordering PennDOT to pull the plug on an $8.6 million deal with Denver-based Ciber Inc., the only firm the governor mentioned by name. The work will be rebid.

“Given the disturbing allegations raised by the turnpike investigation, we will carefully review these vendors to be certain that they meet the highest standards for ethical business operations,” Corbett said in a statement.

“It is imperative that vendors who perform services for the commonwealth clearly establish the integrity of their personnel and their procedures in order to demonstrate that any business relationships are in the best interest of the taxpayers of Pennsylvania,” Corbett said.

“We share the governor's focus on ethical business operations and we intend to cooperate fully with the integrity review,” Ciber spokeswoman Robin Caputo said in an email.

The other firms either could not be reached or did not return calls.

Corbett directed his office's lawyers to conduct an “integrity review” of the firms, focusing on their business and marketing practices. The turnpike said last month that it was reviewing the contracts.

Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, spokesman for Corbett's Office of General Counsel, called the review “a unique response to an unusual situation.”

Hagen-Frederiksen did not say if the review could result in companies being barred from working with state agencies. All can continue working for and seeking work with the state. It is unclear how a company's problems outside the state could affect the review.

In 2005, New Orleans awarded Ciber a consulting contract worth up to $5.5 million that later ballooned to up to $46.2 million, according to the Times-Picayune newspaper. A city official was fired and later convicted for taking kickbacks from a Ciber subcontractor, who was convicted of corruption.

Ciber secured $82 million in contracts with the Pennsylvania Turnpike from 2004 to 2008. The grand jury said former Ciber Vice President Dennis Miller, 51, of Harrisburg solicited campaign contributions from the company's subcontractors and gave gifts to turnpike executives.

Miller is one of eight former turnpike officials and vendors charged in the scandal.

In 2005, Ciber won a state job even though its $3.2 million bid was almost seven times that of the lowest bidder, the grand jury said. Within a year, turnpike officials increased that contract by $58.3 million, which the grand jury called “dramatic and unprecedented.”

The grand jury said Miller gave his daughter turnpike-related work that earned her more than $100 an hour. A witness testified she had “no experience whatsoever.”

A PennDOT office that oversees the issuing of contracts recommended in January hiring Ciber to provide project management office support. Corbett's office said PennDOT will not finalize that $8.6 million contract with Ciber.

Two weeks ago, PennDOT spokesman Steve Chizmar said of the Ciber deal: “This contract was competitively bid and followed all the formal standards of the competitive bidding process. ... Influence didn't factor into the decision.”

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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