The inspector general on Tuesday released a report of investigation finding wrongful acts by Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) employees and a pattern of corrupt activity by department of transportation equipment suppliers who conspired to rig the bidding process for the sale and purchase of traffic equipment.
“The suppliers involved in this case conspired to illegally control the bidding process to their benefit and to the detriment of Ohio taxpayers," Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer said. "The investigation also revealed that several employees at the Ohio Department of Transportation were fully aware of what was happening and passively stood by. The good news today is that a number of the suppliers have been brought to justice and are standing before a judge in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.”
Later in the day, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph T. Deters announced guilty pleas involving the rigging of bids submitted to the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) for traffic control devices.
Quattro Inc. pleaded guilty to two felonies; company sales manager Timothy O'Brien pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors. The pleas are the result of a joint investigation conducted by DeWine's Office, Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer's Office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
This is the first case in almost three decades involving criminal antitrust charges under the state's antitrust statute, the Valentine Act.
"Ohioans deserve a competitive marketplace that helps government make their tax dollars work as hard as possible, rather than lining the pockets of unscrupulous vendors," Attorney General DeWine said. "This case makes it clear that we will take action against anyone who plots against the competitive process in this state."
"We take such cases seriously and will continue to work with other agencies to pursue those who try to get around the rules and cost taxpayers extra money," said Hamilton County Prosecutor Deters.
Quattro pleaded guilty today to one count of entering into an unlawful combination, contract, or agreement with the intent to limit or fix the price of traffic control systems, a fifth-degree felony, and one count of attempting to engage in a pattern of corrupt activity, a third-degree felony. O'Brien pleaded guilty to three counts of engaging in a conspiracy against trade, first-degree misdemeanors.
Quattro worked with an unnamed co-conspirator to submit prearranged quotes to ODOT for traffic control devices, such as arrow boards and traffic cones. At other times, Quattro submitted multiple quotes from itself and related companies. In arranging for several submissions, it would meet ODOT's required number of quotes and give the false appearance of a competitive process. As a result, ODOT was denied the benefits of competition and likely paid more for the traffic control devices it purchased.
The Ohio Attorney General's Office, working in conjunction with the Ohio Inspector General's Office, contacted the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office after gathering sufficient information to establish what Quattro was doing.
Quattro's plea agreement requires:
Payment of $32,796 in restitution to the harmed public entities
Payment of $10,000 to the State of Ohio
Ongoing cooperation with the state's investigation
O'Brien's plea agreement requires $4,372 in restitution; payment of $1,500 to the State of Ohio; and continued cooperation with the state's investigation.
The inspector general acknowledged the joint assistance of other agencies in the investigation.
“In addition to the valuable work provided by the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office, I also want to express my appreciation to Hamilton County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Deters,” Meyer said.
Deters appointed Ohio Deputy Inspector General and Chief Counsel James Manken and Ohio Assistant Attorney General James Roberts as special prosecutors.
DeWine encouraged anyone who might have information on this case or any other possible violation of the state's antitrust laws to visit www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or call 800-282-0515.
Because anti-competitive schemes such as bid-rigging and price-fixing often are carefully and cleverly concealed, DeWine also urged public entities to register for his Office's Partnership for Competitive Purchasing program by visiting the Antitrust section of the Attorney General's website, or by calling 614-466-4328.