Election Section

Davis suspends tech agency head; GOP seeks federal probe

By Steve Lawrence, The Associated Press
Friday May 03, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis’ office dispatched highway patrol officers Thursday to prevent document shredding at a state department involved in approving a much-criticized state computer contract. 

Davis suspended the director of the department, Elias Cortez, and announced that another state technology official, Arun Baheti, the director of e-government, had resigned. 

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers called for a federal investigation of the contract, citing a newspaper report that Davis aides were trying to cut short a legislative probe of the case. 

A spokesman for Davis, Steve Maviglio, said there were no efforts to curtail the legislative investigation. 

The CHP officers were sent to the Department of Information Technology to seize shredders and trash after the Democratic governor’s legal affairs secretary said he received an unsubstantiated report about “possible document shredding.” 

“While we had no conclusive evidence that any shredding or destruction of documents occurred, the mere suggestion that it may have occurred has led us to take these steps,” Barry Goode said in a statement. 

Goode ordered several state agencies, including DOIT, to retain “all documents and electronic files that pertain to information technology systems, contracts, planning or negotiations.” 

The state attorney general’s office sent a team to investigate the shredding report, saying destroying documents dealing with the contract “could pose the potential for obstruction of justice.” 

Maviglio said there was no indication that Cortez was involved in any shredding that may have taken place at the department, but Davis decided to suspend him until investigations of the contract are completed. 

Baheti’s resignation was the second brought on by criticism of the contract. Barry Keene, director of the Department of General Services, stepped down on Friday. 

In a resignation letter to the governor, Baheti said he should have “more vociferously raised questions” about the contract before it was signed. 

“Had I asked more questions of (the Department of Information Technology and Department of General Services), they might have seen the potential problems,” he said. “For that, I must take responsibility.” 

At a news conference earlier in the day, Assembly Minority Leader Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, and two other GOP lawmakers urged the U.S. attorney’s office to investigate the contract. 

The lawmakers said they were only relying on a newspaper report and had no evidence of wrongdoing. Maviglio called the Republican request “just another political attack.” 

“There has been absolutely no attempt to stonewall (or) slow down this investigation,” said Maviglio. “We have cooperated fully.” 

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney John Vincent, the chief federal prosecutor in Sacramento, said her office would not discuss the request. 

“We don’t comment on investigations,” said Patty Pontello. “Most of the time we don’t even comment that we even have one.” 

Cox called his news conference after the San Jose Mercury News quoted Assemblyman Dean Florez as saying administration officials, other lawmakers and lobbyists had pressured him to cut short an investigation into a computer software contact the state signed with the Oracle Corp. 

Florez, D-Shafter, heads the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, which is holding hearings on the Oracle deal. 

A state audit released last month concluded that the six-year, $95 million contact could end up costing the state $41 million instead of saving $16 million through volume discounts, as Oracle claimed. 

“It appears this deal was fast-tracked because of cozy relationships with no analysis of the true cost of taxpayers,” Cox said. “Because there’s an ongoing attempt to keep details from coming out, we are more convinced than ever that a thorough, nonpartisan and timely investigation must occur.” 

He said he did not believe that asking the U.S. Justice Department, an agency run by Republicans, to investigate a Democratic administration would result in a partisan investigation. 

But Florez criticized Cox’s request, saying it was “political” and would only “slow things down at this point.” 

“I’m not interested in politics,” he said. “I’m interested in getting our money back.” 

Asked who had told him to curtain his investigation, he said, “There are people all over the (Capitol) building who are saying it isn’t a good idea for political reasons. Once I tell them it’s a good idea in terms of getting our money back, they say great.” 

The contract is already being investigated by the state Attorney General Bill Lockyer, but state Sen. Richard Ackerman, Lockyer’s Republican opponent in the November election, said Lockyer should drop his probe because he received $50,000 in campaign contributions from Oracle in the last 18 months. 

A spokesman for Lockyer, Nathan Barankin, said Lockyer didn’t have a conflict of interest and that the investigation would continue. 

“The California attorney general’s office is vigorously investigating all aspects pertaining to the Oracle contact,” he said. “We have the strong support of the governor. We intend to see it through to the end, wherever it may lead.” 

Bill Simon, Davis’ Republican opponent, held a news conference in San Francisco to also call for a “thorough investigation” of the case. 

“The people of California have a right to know whether this is a result of corruption or just plain incompetence,” he said. “And they have a right to know if this has grown into a cover-up.” 

Maviglio said Davis was unaware of the contract before it was signed. “If you know the governor’s experience with technology, he is completely mystified by it.”