Corruption Election integrity

Ciber the Briber, and other electoral laundry

A few weeks ago, I decided to examine electoral fraud from the other
end. What happens if we start with known public corruption cases and
work backwards to the intersection with elections?

What I found were kickbacks and bid-rigging schemes in New Orleans and
Pennsylvania which both connect back to Ciber, the Independent Testing
Authority that signed off on most of the voting machines currently
being used in America.

I learned of a now-admittedly corrupt government technology official
who had placed, as one of his first priorities, setting up his very
own Internet voting system.

And while looking into money-laundering systems, the mechanism that
provides the juice for such corruption, I learned of a particularly
odious situation: a New York City Democrat who bribed New York City
Republicans to help him run for Mayor (as a Republican). “You pull
this off, you can have the house. I’ll be a tenant,” he said.

As part of the New York deal, the bribe facilitator was to be
appointed New York City Deputy Chief of Police when the would-be-mayor
got into office.

My purpose in writing this is not to disgust you with politics. My
goal is to illustrate that government officials, employees, or vendors
must never be “trusted” when it comes to conducting elections. There
can never be a place where counting votes in secret, or governmental
snooping on how we voted, or hidden money behind campaigns, or hiding
records on elections, can be accepted by the public, yet that is
happening right now. The democratic system is not about confidence in
our public officials. It’s about vigilance.

THE REAL WORLD IS NOT ON TV

Vendors who do business with the government do participate in
bid-rigging and kickback schemes, and both politicians and government
employees sometimes deprive the public of honest services.

Take the situation in New Orleans, for example, involving former Mayor
Ray Nagin, his chief technology officer Greg Meffert, technology
vendor Mark St. Pierre, and go-between Ed Burns, who was facilitating
payments through a company called Ciber Inc. These guys were doing an
overhaul on the city’s technology infrastructure after Hurricane
Katrina. They were providing traffic and crime cameras. They were
paying themselves for work never performed. They were taking
kickbacks. They were bid-rigging. They were lavishing donations, trips
and perks on candidates they chose.

What hit the front page was crime cameras and infrastructure, but a
small news item contained this gem: One of them, Greg Meffert, was
also hoping to set up Internet voting for the city of New Orleans.

“Greg Meffert, the New Orleans CIO … said today that one of his
priorities is to provide a secure Internet voting system,” write Ellen
O’rien and Charlie Russo of SearchCIO.com. They quote Meffert as
saying:

“Hey, we’re going to do Internet voting for real, in a real election,
and you’re going to vote and use kiosks…”

And they report that: “Meffert plans to model the New Orleans Internet
voting system on the controversial model the Department of Defense had
proposed using for overseas military.” [1] (The Pentagon later
scrapped that idea due to concerns about fraud.)

When you understand that whoever controls the Internet server controls
the election, and that with online voting, the public loses its
ability to see or authenticate any of the essential processes; when
you learn that a technology official who has admitted to taking
$860,000 in bribes,[2] planned to set up his own Internet voting
system for New Orleans, it pretty much hits you with the jitters. Add
to this the fact that around this time, the same guy setting up the
Internet voting system was making ten-thousand-dollar bets on election
outcomes[3], and you realize that Internet voting is nothing more than
a large number of people acting dumb in the dark.

CIBER THE BRIBER?

But that’s not all. While the New Orleans bid-rigging and kickback
scheme focused on Nagin, Meffert and St. Pierre, money flowed through
Ed Burns, in his position as president of state and local government
contracts at Ciber, Inc.,[4] a company that in addition to acting as a
conduit in the New Orleans technology money, acted as the “Independent
Testing Authority” — ITA, that handled testing for most of the voting
systems in use in America today.

In 2007, after Black Box Voting and others proved that another Ciber
subcontractor, Huntsville Alabama’s Shawn Southworth, was not actually
doing the testing he was supposed to be doing,[5] the US Election
Assistance Commission (EAC) pulled Ciber’s authorization as an ITA.
[6] This was reinstated a couple years later, though Ciber’s
authorization is currently shown on the EAC Web site as lapsed.[7]

One wonders how Southworth became Ciber’s subcontractor, especially
after three previous companies for whom Southworth did ITA testing
bailed out. The mechanism in New Orleans may or may not shed light on
the Southworth setup, but it’s darned interesting. Ciber, the voting
system ITA that signed off on Diebold voting machines, including the
GEMS system with its double set of books and ability to count
backwards, popped up in New Orleans using another subcontractor for a
different technology project. Here’s how the New Orleans deal worked:

A subcontractor named Mark St. Pierre worked together with New Orleans
CIO Greg Meffert on a multimillion-dollar technology assignment. But
it was not St. Pierre,but Ciber that invoiced New Orleans for
exorbitant and sometimes impossible tasks and hours by St. Pierre’s
company (these charges included one person being in two places at the
same time). [8] Ciber simply explained that they didn’t believe they
had the responsibility to oversee the work or check the hours for
their subcontractor.

As reported by David Hammer of the Times Picayune: “Ed Burns, Ciber’s
former president for state and local government contracts, testified
on Tuesday that his company’s role in New Orleans was to serve as a
billing mechanism for St. Pierre’s Imagine Software and that the
company had nobody in New Orleans overseeing the subcontractors. He
said Meffert directed him to give all of the work to Imagine and
“considered it an order.” [9]

Ciber billed the City of New Orleans, then passed the money they got
from New Orleans back to Mark St. Pierre. St. Pierre, in turn helped
fill the pockets of New Orleans CIO Greg Meffert.

“The subcontracts [from Ciber to Imagine (St. Pierre’s company)]
appeared to be little more than a mechanism for directing payment from
the city to Imagine and its related companies, ” the city’s
independent inspector general alleged.[10]

THE PAYOFF: A RIGGED BID

Burns admitted that the payoff for Ciber’s role as a “pass-through”,
or conduit, for these payments was Ciber getting the contract to
update New Orleans computer systems, a $5.5 million-a-year deal.
Though Burns referred to getting that contract as “winning a bid”, it
was a rigged bid.

Meffert arranged for St. Pierre to meet Ed Burns in San Francisco, to
create the bid’s requirements, thus assuring that Ciber would win the
work. “So they were literally able to have the answers before the
questions were even posted,” Meffert is quoted as saying. “It’s not
open and fair. This was done to make sure Ciber would win the
contract.” [9]

And it wasn’t just New Orleans: St. Pierre’s company, NetMethods, also
got government contracts working under Ciber in other locations in
Cook County, Ill (Where Ed Burns current company is located] and the
Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality in Jackson, Miss.[11]

If the “carrot” for Ciber was a New Orleans contract, we should be
looking into the “carrots” for Ciber in Chicago and Mississippi as
well.

St. Pierre is now serving an 18-year prison sentence on the
pass-through and bid-rigging schemes. Meffert pleaded guilty and is
expected to receive eight years, though his sentencing has been
delayed several times. Former mayor Ray Nagin also went down, likely
to the tune of 15 years.

But Ciber’s Ed Burns quietly waltzed away after testifying for the
prosecution. He now runs a Chicago-based company called SLG
Innovation, offering more help for the government, paid for by the
taxpayer. According to its Web site, www.slginnovation.com/ the firm
provides technology services for justice and public safety, and works
with state and local health and human service agencies.

CIBER TROUBLES IN PENNSYLVANIA

Ciber secured more contracts paid for by the taxpayer, two of which
were with the Pennsylvania Dept. of Transportation (PennDOT), which
also handles the Pennsylvania motor voter program.On Sept. 4, 2008,
Ciber announced a $19 million contract with PennDOT’s Pennsylvania
Turnpike Commission (PTC), following an initial $8 million deal. [12]

But last month, a corruption investigation hit Ciber and its employee,
Dennis Miller, listed as a Ciber vice president, and charged with
bid-rigging, theft, and conspiracy. Criminal charges have been filed
against eight current and former turnpike officials, employees and
contractors. One of the whistleblowers in the case says $82 million in
toll-payer funds have gone to or through Ciber. [13]

I have not got the documents on Ed Burns involvement in Pennsylvania,
but one of my sources says he was there too. Was Burns involved in the
Cook County deal? How about Mississippi? Why is he still out there
tapping taxpayers instead of in jail? For its part, Ciber is
reportedly trying to distance itself now from both its own former
president of state and local government contracts, Ed Burns, and vice
president Dennis Miller, but then again what about Cook County? What
about Mississippi? And are we looking at a pattern, and if so, what
about all those voting machines Ciber declared so peachy keen?

Ciber’s connection with electronic voting still exists, because voting
systems Ciber signed off on are still widely used in U.S. elections.
This story should underline that trust in a secret counting process is
dangerous, no matter who tests that system. Testing by any corporation
or government employee can never replace public right to see the
actual counting of the vote.

AND NOW, FOR A DIFFERENT INTERSECTION OF PUBLIC CORRUPTION CASE AND
ELECTIONS: THE NEW YORK CASE

In New York, both Democrats and Republicans have been charged with
selling access to the ballot for the New York City mayoral race.
Malcolm A. Smith, a New York state senator since 2000 and acting Lt.
Governor under former Governor David A. Patterson, paid bribes to at
least two Republican leaders in exchange for ballot access in the New
York Mayor’s race.

Like St. Pierre in New Orleans, Smith used a middleman as a money
conduit. Whereas St. Pierre set up a deal with Ciber, whereby Ciber
would hire him as a subcontractor and pass through payments to him
from the City of New Orleans, New York State Senator Smith is alleged
to have cooked up an even more off-the-books deal using former New
York City Councilman Charles Halloran.

Halloran facilitated meetings with New York City Republican officials
for the Democratic Senator Smith, who needed the cooperation of at
least three of New York’s five Republican party bosses in order to run
for mayor as a Republican. Halloran, according to the US Attorney’s
office, helped negotiate bribes to Republican bosses on behalf of
Malcolm Smith. For his work as a go-between he received both bribes
and a promise that Smith would appoint Halloran to the position of
Deputy Chief of Police for New York City.

This repulsive police-position-deal would intersect with elections in
another way: Unlike other counties in New York, which run ballot chain
of custody through the county election office, New York City places
its police force in the middle of the electoral chain of custody. In
2008, for example, it was the police department that relayed election
results to the public, instead of an elections office.

Political corruption spreads like cancer. According to charging
documents , the New York bribery scheme spilled over into Rockland
County, to a village mayor and deputy mayor for Spring Valley.
Assisted by some of the same people involved in the Malcolm Smith
election case, they offered to snatch up some village land using
eminent domain in order to sell it off to a developer. The mayor had
secretly cut herself into a partnership with the developer, and the
deputy mayor received a bribe.

Corruption creates a neural system of one politician beholden to
another. The public always needs to retain its right to know, to
examine documents, and to see what’s going on. Otherwise, who’s gonna
tell?

As Halloran explains, “That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all
about how much. Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and
that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like
that,” (on this occasion, fortunately for us, he said this on tape and
in front of an FBI agent.) “Money is what greases the wheels – good,
bad, or indifferent.” [14]

AND THE MORAL OF THE STORY IS…

Before we go skipping down the road trusting any politician to know
what’s best for us regarding our own right to see and authenticate
elections…

Before we agree to some pie-in-the-sky idea that secret vote counting
processes are safe because some company tested them…

Before we accept the idea that some legislators can pass a law telling
us we have to cede over our right to know…

We need to understand that when it comes to elections, trust is
childlike. It’s wishful thinking. It’s immature.

It’s not how the world works, and we owe it to our children to
remember that.

* * * *

FOOTNOTES:

[1] NEW ORLEANS CIO: KATRINA SPURS INTERNET ELECTION: SearchCIO.com –
09.26.2005,
By Ellen O達rien and Charlie Russo

[2] Convicted vendor Mark St. Pierre seeks deal for aiding Ray Nagin
probe: The Times-Picayune – August 27, 2012, By Gordon Russell
http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2012/08/convicted_vendor_mark_st_pierr.html

[3] Trial’s first stones thrown; Ex-City Hall vendor accused of
bribery: The Times-Picayune – 10 May 2011, by David Hammer

[4] Former contractor Ciber gave tickets, parties to Mayor Ray Nagin,
but saw no conflict: The Times-Picayune – May 10, 2011, By David
Hammer

[5] Black Box Voting; Chapter 6, “Who’s Beholden to Whom?”, by Bev
Harris
http://www.blackboxvoting.org/bbv_chapter-6.pdf
and
Hacking Democracy: HBO Pictures, 2006

[6] U.S. Bars Lab From Testing Electronic Voting: The New York Times –
January 4, 2007, By Christopher Drew
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/04/washington/04voting.html

[7] Expired Accreditation Test Labs – Ciber Inc.: US Election
Assistance Commission Web site, as of April 4, 2013
http://www.eac.gov/testing_and_certification/accredited_test_laboratories.aspx

[8] City aide cleans up after the storm ; Doing errands nets him
$75.28 per hour: Times-Picayune – 18 March 2007, by Gordon Russell

[9] Greg Meffert testimony puts Colorado-based Ciber in crosshairs:
The Times-Picayune – May 11, 2011, By David Hammer
http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2011/05/greg_meffert_testimony_puts_co.html

[10] Public, private lines blur at City Hall; Former tech chief’s
deals face scrutiny: Times-Picayune – 5 April 2009, by David Hammer

[11] Mark St. Pierre defends ‘strategic partnership’ with contractor
Ciber Inc.: The Times-Picayune – May 24, 2011, By David Hammer

[12] CIBER Wins $19 Million SAP Support Contract for Pennsylvania
Turnpike: Press Release: Associated Press Newswires – 4 September 2008

[13] Turnpike insiders who decided to blow the whistle were
threatened, sometimes fired, says attorney general: Philadelphia
Inquirer – March 14, 2013, by Paul Nussbaum

[14] Complaint against Malcolm Smith et. al.: US District Attorney
Southern District of New York – 3/29/2013,
http://www.scribd.com/doc/133604402/Smith-Malcolm-Et-Al-Complaint

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