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Baltimore City Detention Center. (File photo)
Baltimore City Detention Center. (File photo)

Comptroller calls for review of $37M jail food contract

ANNAPOLIS — The state comptroller called Wednesday for an attorney general’s review over a flawed $37 million food contract for Baltimore detention facilities.

At issue was an emergency $6.6 million contract with the current contractor, Crystal Enterprises, that was before the Board of Public Works. The adjustment was needed because of miscalculations in the number of meals that would be needed.

The contract was approved, but not before the comptroller, Peter Franchot, criticized the Prince George’s County company, focusing on its threat to back out, after only weeks on the job, if it did not get more money.

‘Very troubling’

“I think the attorney general, Brian Frosh, should take a look at this from top to bottom, because I just find it very troubling,” said Franchot, one of three board members.

Thurman Custis, chief operating officer of the company, said the contract was based on price per meal. He said a state procurement miscalculation dramatically changed the company’s ability to operate under the contract.

“It represents millions of dollars in difference,” Custis said, adding that the company has had to spend money on kitchen equipment as well.

Franchot has long been a critic of the state’s procurement practice.

“This might just be the most troubling item that I’ve seen brought before this board in the eight years, nine years now, that I’ve been sitting on it, and believe me there were some doozies,” Franchot said.

He said he has attributed bad contracts to flawed procurement procedures, administrative negligence and misplaced priorities.

Gov. Larry Hogan, who also is on the board, said the contract will have to be rebid. The contract was approved shortly before Hogan entered office.

‘Disgraceful display’

“This is one of the most disgraceful displays of mismanagement I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Hogan said.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp, who is also a board member, said statements made about the contract at the January meeting when the board approved it were not accurate.

“I do not believe in fact that there is corruption involved. I do believe that there is some degree of incompetence involved and some degree of miscommunication within your agency between the finance people and the procurement people as to what numbers to use,” Kopp said, referring the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the calculation of meals.

Trinity Services Group Inc., which used to perform the service and lost the contract in January, has been critical of Crystal Enterprises getting the added money without competition. Crystal’s bid for the contract was significantly lower than Trinity’s, but Trinity argued that Crystal’s proposal was flawed from the beginning.

“Governor, we would implore you to look into this matter,” said Michael Johansen, a Trinity representative. “Investigate the prior procurement.”

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