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Court Finds Pennsylvania Jail’s Phone Bidding Process was Rigged; Contract Awarded to Another Company

The bidding process used to select the telephone contractor for Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) was rigged by an official previously accused of improperly influencing a prior phone contract at the jail. That was the basis of a lawsuit filed by a local taxpayer, Matthew E. D’Eramo, in an effort to void the contract.

Previously, Common Pleas Judge Judith Friedman ruled in May 2006 that ACJ’s former Internal Affairs Chief, Capt. Thomas R. Leicht, Jr., conspired with other county employees to rig the bids on the jail’s telephone contract the last time it was put out for bid. See: Lemansky v. Allegheny County, Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (PA), Case No. GD 06-3583.

An appellate court ordered the 2006 contract bid to be reopened, and Securus Technologies subsequently won the jail’s phone contract after Leicht was prohibited from participating in the re-bid process. See: Lemansky v. Allegheny County, 926 A.2d 1003 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2007). However, Leicht was again assigned to evaluate bids when the phone contract was up for renewal in 2009, and he gave a low score to Securus based on a failed system test.

“Despite Judge Friedman’s opinion and past finding[s] of Capt. Leicht’s corruption, the county unbelievably designated Capt. Leicht as one of four decision makers to evaluate and score the proposals received in response to the [2009 phone contract bids],” the lawsuit states.

Leicht was fired in Sept. 2010 for allegedly falsifying his work history and falsely stating he was a police officer in an unrelated federal court hearing. His termination was upheld by the county’s personnel board.

“This is a case of déjà vu all over again,” observed D’Eramo’s attorney, Jason L. Richey. In his argument to the court, Richey said county officials never informed Securus in advance that they wanted a system demonstration, and that Leicht had designed the test so Securus would fail.

County officials and Public Communications Services (PCS), the company that won the ACJ phone contract, which also is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, refuted that contention. PCS is a subsidiary of Global Tel*Link.

Test scores admitted into evidence indicated that Securus’s system finished third while PCS finished first. Although Securus offered to pay ACJ higher commissions (kickbacks) from the phone rates charged to prisoners’ families and loved ones, the company’s poor test scores cost it the contract.

“It was a major concern,” Allegheny County Chief Purchasing Officer John Deighan noted during nearly two-and-a-half hours of testimony. “If the system didn’t function, there wasn’t any value in it.”

However, it was later learned that Leicht and another bid evaluator “took it upon themselves to access a working site of Securus at a Florida prison” rather than use a test site provided by Securus, and did not give the company advance notice they would be running the test, which involved retrieving 68,000 phone records. The court found that this appeared “to be a conscious effort to make the [Securus] system fail.”

The taxpayer suit filed by D’Eramo claimed that Leicht “damaged the integrity of the public contracting process” by rigging the jail’s phone bid system.

In late June 2011, the Court of Common Pleas issued a preliminary injunction that reversed the award of the 2009 ACJ phone contract to PCS and ordered that the contract revert to Securus until it was rebid. The court also criticized the county for allowing Leicht to participate in the 2009 bidding process after he had been linked to rigging the prior 2006 phone contract, calling that decision “exceedingly unwise.” See: D’Eramo v. Allegheny County, Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (PA), Case No. GD 10-022334.

According to whistleblower William Mistick, 49, Leicht tried to steer the phone contract to a friend of former ACJ war-den Ramon Rustin. Leicht failed to appear and testify in the D’Eramo lawsuit, while Rustin had resigned in December 2010 to take another job.

The county and PCS appealed the preliminary injunction order, and on January 12, 2012 the Commonwealth Court issued an unpublished ruling that affirmed the trial court’s decision. See: D’Eramo v. Allegheny County, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, Case Nos. 1282 C.D. 2011 and 1283 C.D. 2011 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2012).

Neglected in the various legal challenges to the jail’s phone contract is the fact that regardless of which company wins the bid, prisoners’ families and friends still must pay inflated phone rates. Currently, Securus’s phone charges at ACJ include $2.00 plus $.07/minute for a local collect call, $2.00 plus $.20/minute for an intrastate collect call and $3.00 plus $.59/minute for an interstate (long distance) collect call. Such price gouging is typical of prison and jail phone services. [See: PLN, April 2011, p.1].

According to a November 2011 report by Allegheny County’s Office of the Controller, Securus pays the county a 57.2% kickback commission on phone revenue, which totaled over $1.2 million from Sept. 1, 2009 through Aug. 31, 2010. The report also found “the Jail was not effectively monitoring the Securus contract,” “Securus did not provide [] contracted enhancements to the Jail’s inmate telephone system,” and there were “discrepancies with Securus’s call rates.”

Sources: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,

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Related legal cases

D’Eramo v. Allegheny County

D’Eramo v. Allegheny County

Lemansky v. Allegheny County

Lemansky v. Allegheny County