8/8/2019Maryland: Government Watchdog Warns Of School Bus Camera Impropriety
Inspector general raises red flags regarding the school bus camera program in Montgomery County, Maryland.
Montgomery County, Maryland's inspector general is raising questions about the propriety of the deal county officials struck with convicted felons to turn school buses into automated ticketing platforms. In 2016, the Montgomery County Public School System (MCPS) signed a contract with Force Multiplier Solutions (FMS) for the installation and operation of stop-arm camera systems. The arrangement raised eyebrows only after Robert Carl Leonard Jr, the CEO of Force Multiplier, was caught bribing Dallas, Texas, officials to adopt a bus camera system that ultimately bilked taxpayers out of $70 million.
In a report released last week, Montgomery County inspector general Edward L. Blansitt III explained that the deal the Maryland jurisdiction inked with felons is largely similar to the one that bankrupted Dallas County Schools. That is no coincidence. In 2015, several Montgomery County officials traveled to Dallas to meet with Leonard and another convicted felon, Dallas County Schools superintendent Ricky Dale Sorrells, to create the new arrangement -- which still lives on today.
"In October 2017, MCPS signed an amended contract and MOU with MCPD, acknowledging the assignment of the FMS contract to what was described as a separate company named BusPatrol America LLC," Blansitt wrote.
The report identified links between Force Multiplier and BusPatrol.
"While BusPatrol and FMS may technically be different corporate entities, they remain at the same address, with the same telephone number, and using the same equipment on the same contracts," the report found. "The president of FMS is now the president of BusPatrol and is the same person who introduced a criminal conspirator to county and MCPS employees. Furthermore, it was also discovered that the current CEO of BusPatrol is listed in Canadian legal documents as being a co-director of Force Multiplier Solutions Canada (which filed a corporate name change to become BusPatrol Canada)... Given the continuity of key people, history of corporate name changes and the pattern of misinformation provided, a prudent response of healthy skepticism appears appropriate before transferring millions of dollars from the drivers of Montgomery County to this company."
The report explained that the county has generated none of the revenue it had anticipated from the school bus camera program, while the vendor has pocketed $10 million. The report concluded that the contract failed to follow the normal public bidding process and instead created an arrangement that favored the camera vendor.
"The business case for this program was built around the desired use of a predetermined vendor rather than an objective analysis to design an effective and economical method to achieve an identified outcome," the report found.
To bypass the public bidding process, Montgomery County latched onto the contract between Force Multiplier and the school board in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. While the Louisiana deal had East Baton Rouge splitting profits with Force Multiplier, the Montgomery County "bridge" contract stated Force Multiplier would keep the first $18 million in revenue generated. After that, the company would keep the first $1 million generated annually before splitting any profits.
"Although we have not undertaken a forensic accounting review of the MCPS program, it appears to be structured much like the Dallas County School District program which ultimately led to the bankruptcy of the school district," Blansitt wrote. "Much like the situation in Dallas County, Montgomery County appears to potentially bear the financial burden of vendor failure."
As for safety, the report found that the school bus cameras have not reduced violations, nor have they reduced accidents involving school children. As national statistics show, such accidents are exceedingly rare and none were recorded in the four years before the cameras were activated.
"We contacted both MCPD and the Maryland State Police and requested data on school bus stop light violations resulting in pedestrian collisions in Montgomery County; neither agency could locate any record of such a collision in Montgomery County for at least the past eight years," the report explained.
A copy of the inspector general's report is available in a 4mb PDF file at the source link below.