LA school district finds possible conflict of interest in 300 construction contractor hirings

By Christina Hoag, AP
Friday, April 16, 2010

LA schools finds 300 improper contractor hirings

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District has found possible conflict of interest violations in the hiring of some 300 construction contractors over the past eight years and has transferred two employees in charge of hiring.

Schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he has ordered further investigation of the possible violations and will turn over any evidence of conflict of interest to the district’s general counsel and the city comptroller, who is performing an independent audit of the Facilities Services Division. He said they’ll turn over information to the district attorney’s office if warranted.

The review of some 2,000 contract hirings came after the district’s regional director of new construction, Bassam Raslan, was indicted earlier this month on nine counts of conflict of interest stemming from his hiring of employees from his outside company for school projects. According to the indictment, Raslan received kickbacks from the employees.

Raslan, who was an independent contractor for the district overseeing its schools construction program, is free on $100,000 bail and has been placed on unpaid administrative leave. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday, but the hearing was continued until April 29.

Raslan’s attorney, David V. Nixon, has said Raslan did not break any conflict of interest laws because he was not a district employee.

Cortines said in a statement released late Thursday that the district has completed the majority of an internal management review of the district’s construction department, which is overseeing the building of $20 billion worth of new schools in the nation’s second-largest school system.

About 15 percent of the hirings of outside contractors were deemed “irregular,” possibly either violating conflict of interest or other rules. The district said the potential violations occurred before officials implemented a comprehensive conflict of interest policy in 2008, when Raslan’s hiring practices first came under scrutiny.

Two staffers in charge of the construction hiring process have been transferred to posts that do not involve personnel decisions, the district said.

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