California Sheriff’s Largest Campaign Donors include Corizon and Aramark
by Greg Dober
In Alameda County, California, Corizon Correctional Healthcare is facing questions regarding campaign contributions to County Sheriff Greg Ahern. While investigating two inmate deaths at Santa Rita jail, in Alameda County, television station, KTVU-2 uncovered public documents, which shows Ahern accepting $110,000 in campaign contributions during 2006-2013 from Corizon. The Corizon contract with Alameda County, worth $237 million, is the counties largest contract and Corizon was Ahern’s largest campaign donor.
Corizon contributed to Ahern’s campaign fund despite the sheriff running unopposed in his reelection bids. Ahern defended the contribution by indicating that he used the money to fund a golf tournament to raise money for the sheriff’s deputy’s health and welfare fund. Corizon wasn’t alone in funding the sheriff’s unopposed campaign bids. Aramark, the food service provider at the jail, donated in excess of $11,500 from 2008-2009. In addition, two companies bidding for video services at the jail also donated a total of $20,000 to Ahern’s campaigns.
After the three-year contract expiration in 2011, the company was awarded consecutive one-year no- bid renewals at the recommendation of Ahern. In a no-bid contract renewal, Ahern has continually recommended Corizon since 2011 despite the company’s performance problems at the jail and the large contract. Corizon was awarded the original contract for the jail in 2008. Additionally, the county board approved a three-year no bid extension upon the recommendation of Ahern that continued the contract to 2016. The county’s administrative code mandates that contracts in excess of $100,000 must undergo a bid competition. However, the county waived the bidding procedure and awarded Corizon the three-year renewal based on the recommendation from Ahern, thereby turning a three-year contract into an eight-year contract without competitive scrutiny.
In 2012, a grand jury reviewed five of the largest contract awards in Alameda County and determined that there were systemic problems within the county involving a lack of contract oversight and evaluation. Two of the five contracts were affiliated with the sheriff’s office. The handling of the Corizon and Aramark food service contracts were criticized by the grand jury. Specifically, the grand jury criticized the no-bid extensions as well as a lack of oversight by the county or qualified personnel. For both contracts, the grand jury found contract oversight was the responsibility of Ahern’s subordinates. The contract administrator was a commander of the corrections and detention division and the compliance officer was a sheriff’s lieutenant. Despite these conflicts, Ahern’s contends that no conflict of interest existed.
The no-bid renewals commenced despite an $8.3 million settlement related to the death of an inmate in 2010. Martin Harrison, 49, was beaten and Tasered by Sheriff’s deputies at Santa Rita Jail. Harrison was suffering from extreme alcohol withdrawal at the time he was sent to the jail. The lawsuit claimed jail medical staff did not perform an adequate medical assessment and Harrison should have been hospitalized rather than jailed. The 2015 settlement included several non-monetary actions. The county is now required to conduct health training for the Sheriff’s office and Corizon is required to provide qualified healthcare staff to conduct intake screening and assessments at all California jails in which they have a contract.
In July 2015, another inmate died after an asthma attack. Despite several court orders requiring Corizon to treat the inmate’s nasal condition of obstructive polyps, the inmate never received the procedure and died from the asthma attack.
Despite the investigation into the campaign donations, so far officials have not found any criminal wrong doing by the sheriff or companies. However, a lot of unanswered questions about Ahern’s conflict of interests with Corizon and other campaign contributors remain.
Sources: www.ktvu.com, Alameda County Grand Jury Final report 2011-2012, Settlement Agreement: M.H. v. County of Alameda et al, Case 3:11-cv-02868-JST