Monticello’s athletic director pleads guilty to rigging sports equipment bids

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Fitzgerald Barnes. Photo courtesy www.louisacounty.com Fitzgerald Barnes. Photo courtesy www.louisacounty.com

Monticello High School’s athletic director and the vice president of a local sports equipment store admitted in federal court today that they worked together with another supplier to rig bids for the high school’s athletic equipment.

U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy said in a news release Friday that between August 2008 and August 2010, Fitzgerald Arnette Barnes, who also serves as vice chairman of the Louisa County Board of Supervisors, worked with David Mayhew Deane, vice president of Charlottesville retailer Downtown Athletic, and Charles Albert Phillips, another supplier in Annapolis, to ensure that Downtown Athletic was the lowest of the three required bidders for the school’s sports equipment contracts.

“Over the course of several years, Barnes directed Deane to obtain and submit to Monticello High School the three required bids, one bid for Downtown Athletic and two representing other, fictitious retailers, ensuring Downtown Athletic would be awarded the contract,” the news release said. On several occasions, Deane asked Phillips to submit false bids that were higher than his.

“These three individuals worked together to circumvent these important procurement regulations by creating dummy bids for athletic apparel and equipment,” Heaphy said.

Albemarle County Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita said the division was informed of an FBI investigation into suspicious procurement practices in 2010. Barnes was not confronted, he said, because “they were allegations that were unproven at the time,” and the division “didn’t want to interfere with the investigation.”

Shortly after officials learned of the investigation, the division met with athletic directors and adjusted its policy on procuring bids, Giaramita said. Now, bids are handled by the county’s procurement and purchasing office. After a competitive bid process in 2010, two companies were approved as sports equipment suppliers for all Albemarle County schools. One of those suppliers is Downtown Athletic, said Giaramita, but the division is reviewing that contract.

“The process is a lot tighter than it was, and there are more eyes on these bids and contracts,” Giaramita said. “We’re confident that the changes made back in 2010 have provided a level of financial control that’s been very strong.”

A statement released by the division after the plea said that school officials “do not believe there was any financial injury to the school division as the result of the activities that resulted in today’s announcement.” The statement said court proceedings indicated Barnes “did not realize any personal gain from his actions.”

The division has purchased approximately $364,000 worth of sports equipment from Downtown Athletic since 2010, Giaramita said, about $250,000 of which was bought since Albemarle entered its current contract with the company in 2013.

Barnes did not immediately return calls for comment. Maureen Deane, president of Downtown Athletic and sister of David Deane, referred a reporter to Susan Payne, head of Charlottesville public relations firm Payne, Ross and Associates.

A statement released by the firm on behalf of the company made no mention of the creation of fake bids, but said that “Downtown Athletic did not receive any money that it should not have received, and Monticello High School was not charged higher prices than it should have been.” The statement said the case was “not about financial loss, but about sloppy procedures and sloppy implementation. Those procedures have been changed, both at Albemarle County and at Downtown Athletic, and the relationship between these parties now complies with all applicable laws.”

“I apologize to the county schools administration for having taken these shortcuts in procurement procedures,” David Deane said in the statement. “Downtown Athletic values its relationship with the Albemarle County schools and our whole community. This will not happen again.”

The three men turned themselves in Friday morning, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. Barnes is on administrative leave with pay while his employment status is reviewed, said Giaramita. Barnes was ordered to pay a $750 fine. Deane will pay a $1,500 fine, and Phillips a $350 fine.

This story has been updated with additional figures since its original posting.

 

The full text of the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office is as follows:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA – Three men, including the athletic director at Monticello High
School and the vice president of Downtown Athletic Store, pled guilty this morning in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia to a federal misdemeanor charge related to bid rigging.

In separate hearings this morning in Federal Court, Fitzgerald Arnette Barnes, 50, of Louisa, Va., David Mayhew Deane, 54, of Keswick, Va., and Charles Albert Phillips, 48, of Annapolis, Md., waived their right to be indicted and pled guilty to a one-count Information charging each with one count of knowingly embezzling money belonging to the United States.

“When school officials spend taxpayer dollars, they must comply with procurement rules that encourage competition and ensure that schools obtain the best possible price,” United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today. “These three individuals worked together to circumvent these important procurement regulations by creating dummy bids for athletic apparel and equipment. This case demonstrates our continuing commitment to ensuring that public funds are responsibly handled.”

Barnes, the athletic director at Monticello High School, has admitted to being involved with Deane, the Vice President of Downtown Athletic, and Phillips, the Vice President of Sales for Team Distributor, a sports apparel retailer in Maryland, in a scheme to fix bids on athletic apparel purchased for Monticello High School.

The three have admitted that between August 2008 and August 2010 they fraudulently created price bids that were used as the basis for contracts involving the sale of athletic equipment and apparel from Downtown Athletic to Monticello High School. Albemarle County policy requires a bid from three different vendors when entering into contracts with private companies for goods and services which cost more than $1000.

Over the course of several years, Barnes directed Deane to obtain and submit to Monticello High School the three required bids, one bid for Downtown Athletic and two representing other, fictitious retailers, ensuring Downtown Athletic would be awarded the contract. On several occasions, Deane contacted Phillips and asked him to also submit false bids to Monticello High School that were higher than the bid submitted by Downtown Athletic Store. After receiving the two false and one authentic bid, Barnes awarded multiple contracts for the sale of athletic apparel and equipment to Deane and Downtown Athletic.

Following today’s guilty plea hearing, all three defendants were sentenced. Phillips was ordered to pay a $350 fine, Barnes was ordered to pay a $750 fine and Deane was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy and Assistant United States Attorney Ronald Huber prosecuted the case for the United States.

 

 

 

 

 

  • belmontDude

    How long until someone in City Hall reaches out to offer him a job downtown? He would fit right in there.

  • SP

    So Deane intentionally circumvented the procurement process, breaking the law in the process, and it’s spun as “sloppy procedures…” I certainly hope people will shop elsewhere. As for Barnes – another shining example for the community.

  • democracy

    This article begs a basic question, which goes unaddressed:

    If this bid-rigging went on for years (and it did), why didn’t the principal at the time know about it?

  • Bruno Hob

    You couldn’t have a clearer case of criminal fraud, now look at the penalties, a few hundred dollars in fines, amounts none of these gentlemen will miss. Meanwhile, some poor guy growing a pot plant….

  • Trdwynds

    I got my fill of Fitz Barnes when my kids attended MHS. When Billy Haun was Principal, he backed Fitz up at every turn. Fitz could do no wrong to Haun and my concerns were ignored. Several parents at that time complained to Haun about Fitz to no avail. I would be very interested to know what Haun knew about this as well as other Principals at MHS during the years of Fitz’s crimes. Perhaps if we had been granted the chance for investigation into our concerns, all of this could have been avoided. Now, Fitz has been investigated by the FBI, admitted to the crimes and sentenced. If the Albemarle County School Board did not fire Fitz on the spot, rather they suspended him WITH pay to consider his fate with the County, you should be very concerned about the examples that are being set for our children. If Fitz is allowed to keep his job, something continues to be rotten in Denmark.

    • democracy

      Trdwynds: Your comment addresses the question I raised in my earlier comment, which was this:

      If this bid-rigging went on for years (and it did), why didn’t the principal at the time know about it?

      It was my understanding that Barnes had the solid backing of the principal, and that raises a host of other questions, especially when one considers that were were a number of complaints made about the AD to the principal and nothing seemed to have happened. (By the way, you now where that former principal is now, right?)

      County school leaders can – at times – move quickly. For example, about a decade ago, a principal at Western was removed quite rapidly, and secretively. Yet others, usually those who seem to be favored downtown, hang around for years, sometimes ensconced snugly at central office with fat paychecks.

      And there’s that lingering issue of SchoolNet, the $2 million failed technology initiative. The superintendent, with the school board’s blessing, is still withholding 268 SchoolNet-related emails from public scrutiny. I’d guess there’s a reason or that, and it’s not related to “working papers.”

  • Trdwynds

    Democracy: I read your earlier comment regarding the principals and what they knew. It’s what initially triggered my comments. It must be the most guarded secret who quickly gets the boot and who is favored in the Alb Co School system. I, too, don’t understand how certain ones are hoisted to the top making large salaries given the multiple complaints about them. Why aren’t the principals, during the years of this crime, being investigated? Why did Haun, in particular, stand firm with Fitz no matter what was brought to his attention? Personally, as a parent, I felt insulted and powerless. The old boys club is alive and well in the Alb Co School system. It needs to be broken up from the top before you see a real change in gridlock. I’d like to see Pam Moran do a thorough investigation rather than sweep it under a rug. Let’s watch this play out and see if we’re right. Wlll a convicted criminal remain the MHS AD? Will these crimes be investigated to the fullest so this doesn’t happen again? All eyes are watching and we’re all very aware.

    • democracy

      Trdwynds:

      I would not hold my breath hoping that Pam Moran will conduct any kind of a “thorough investigation rather than sweep it under a rug.”

      Remember, she brought BH into central office, He is her boy (or was…now he’s a big cheese at the Department of Education…where he will help Steve Staples do some more corporate-style “reform.”) She’s brought some of the not-so-hot administrators into central office and let them loaf there for years with nice paychecks.

      Remember also that she is still withholding from public scrutiny 268 SchoolNet-related emails…SchoolNet was a very costly failure.

      One former administrator who left the system gave the superintendent and some of her top aides a copy of Irving Janis’ book Groupthink upon his departure. According to Janis, Groupthink is characterized by close-mindedness, pressure to conform, insulation of those in power, censorship of ideas that deviate from dictates, and failure to fairly evaluate alternatives and “preferred choices.” Ultimately, according to Janis, it results in “defective decision-making.”

      Groupthink is what characterizes the Albemarle county central office.

      And that’s what people should be aware of.

      • Trdwynds

        Democracy: I did some checking and it was PM who brought BH into the central office. At that time I am personally aware of many complaints against BH. Yes, he was there several years and allowed to draw a large salary underutilized. Apparently, she ignored complaints and moved him up anyway. Why would she do this when the County School budget is always so tight? Why aren’t more people concerned about this? I will look more into the SchoolNet emails, but I am much more concerned about favoring those who are not deserving of our hard earned money based on their own personal preferences. It seems very quiet on the Fitz front… maybe if they ignore it, it will go away and Fitz can slip back in. UNREAL!

        • democracy

          Well Trdwynds, I’m sure you saw the announcement regarding Barnes’ resignation…I’ll guess that he was offered the option of being fired or resigning.

          Still, the question lingers, if the bid-rigging went on for years (and it did), and if there were complaints to the school’s administration about Barnes (and apparently there were), then what did the school’s principal know about this whole affair?

  • Trdwynds

    Democracy:
    Yes, I heard Fitz resigned and yes, I agree he was told to do so to preserve his monetary status with the County. I think this takes the cake. Furthermore, I’m guessing that they didn’t want pressure to further investigate what the principals may have known so Fitz’s 9 lives ran out. It’s disturbing to me that Fitz made it clear that he will still be allowed to attend sporting events given the fact he said he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. It would be insulting to this community to think that by Fitz’s resignation it’s all over. This happened over too many YEARS and the principals should be held accountable and investigated. If they had been on the job, this should have never happened. Also, what is in place now so this won’t happen again? I honestly hope I’m wrong. A full investigation would clear the air.

    • democracy

      Trdwynds:

      Here’s the last part of Barnes’ resignation statement:

      “I also would like to thank Dr. Pam Moran and the Albemarle County School Board for their consistent and dedicated support of Monticello athletics and of all our students for so many years. They have made it possible for us to build a great family that will only become greater in the years ahead. Thank You.”

      As I mentioned previously, the superintendent brought BH into central office. The superintendent has turned all the county high schools into “academies” in order to address the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) shortage and crisis, except there is NO shortage or crisis. None whatsoever. And the superintendent, apparently with the blessing of the school board, has for years withheld 268 emails about SchoolNet, which was a multimillion dollar fiasco.

      A “full investigation” might well “clear the air. But don’t expect it from this superintendent.

      • Trdwynds

        Democracy:
        The crimes that occurred over many years without one principal flagging wrong doing was clearly negligent on the part of the County school system. Fitz was allowed to run the athletic dept without responsible supervision. I can only speak to our own complaints during the time BH was principal. We complained on a number of occasions and I know for a fact that other parents did the same. Each time, BH made belittled us as if we were beneath him and blew us off. He had such a horrible way of interacting with parents. Now, either BH was part of a cover up or he shucked his responsibility to follow through with our complaints. Who knows, it could have been both, but clearly BH was in strong support of Fitz no matter what was brought to his attention. I want to believe that Dr. Moran will do the responsible thing, after these FBI revelations and recent convictions, and conduct an internal investigation. It’s the very least she can do. Questioning BH and why he ignored sound complaints would be a start. Again, let’s see how this plays out. It should, in no way, be over at this point unless you are right and Dr. Moran has a soft spot for certain ones.

  • belmontDude

    At least he resigned. Sheri Iachetta doesn’t seem to be facing any real problems for enriching herself by nearly $5000. I used to think the City was cleaner than the county (Ahem, Christopher Dumler…), but no longer.

    Bruno Hob below says “You couldn’t have a clearer case of criminal fraud, now look at the penalties, a few hundred dollars in fines, amounts none of these gentlemen will miss.” I think the cell phone scandal does trump this one as an even clearer case of criminal fraud.

    Iachetta’s behavior is going to undermine the public’s trust in everything about our local government (voter registrar commits fraud!!!!!! amazing that Drudge isn’t all over that one) and may just be the very tip of the fraud iceberg, but no one seems to be concerned in City Hall. Maurice Jones was told of crimes back in March and didn’t do anything. The electoral board supports Iachetta, and Kristen Szakos thinks things have been blown out of proportion and that Maurice Jones is doing a fine job despite ignoring evidence that fraud was occurring.

    http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/local/charlottesville-registrar-only-recently-repaid-city-for-husband-s-phone/article_6463cd2e-3ae9-11e4-8780-001a4bcf6878.html

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