BOSS Hall

As Ben Hall prepares to leave City Hall, questions are again being raised about his involvement in the doling out of city business. But Hall says the law allows him to do pretty much as he pleases.

Hall and Miller have offered contradictory accounts of when Robert Muhammad's Delinquent Recovery Inc. was mentioned as a solution to West Capital's "problems."

When first contacted by the Press, Miller said he was unaware of another company's interest in a collection contract. Asked specifically if he had ever seen a proposal from Delinquent Recovery, he said there would be no reason for him to since "we don't have a [request for proposal] out on the street right now." Asked if options were being considered to either replace or supplement West Capital, Miller replied, "No, not to my knowledge."

When the Press informed Hall of Miller's comments, the city attorney suggested a three-way call with the municipal courts administrator. "Now that we have Larry on the phone, let's just make sure that all of us understand what's been said," Hall said by way of opening the conversation. He then laid out a version of the November 3 meeting suggesting that everyone at the table knew that Muhammad's company stood ready to help West Capital. Hall said he recalled telling West Capital, "I would propose that you get with Delinquent Recovery and increase your minority participation and then come back and see if we can reach an agreement along those terms and guarantee the city $175,000 worth of business."

As the conference call with the Press continued, Hall then said, "Larry, correct me if I'm wrong, did I hand you a copy of the proposal?"

"All of that is absolutely correct," Miller replied.
Miller blamed the apparent contradiction of his earlier comments on a memory lapse. "The difference is I don't remember the part about the two of them working together. I learned that sitting here listening to Ben. And when he said it, I remembered it."

In separate interviews, Miller and Hall also offered conflicting statements on what right Muhammad had to receive a city contract without following city policy on competitive bidding. During an interview in his City Hall office, Hall said that Miller "has the ability to choose whomever he wanted to without even going back to council." Hall added that, while the city prefers the competitive process because it usually results in a better deal, "the law does not require that [professional service contracts] be competitively bid or competitively proposed."

"I'll be honest with you," he continued, "we have the right to select anybody we want .... I don't have to get up here and go through some big elaborate process that satisfies all of this, quote, 'sense of fairness' that you all like to talk about."

Miller, however, had a different understanding of city policy. When asked if his department would be required to issue a public request for proposal if a contract for 450-day delinquencies was to be awarded, he replied, "Absolutely."

Greanias spokeswoman Maryann Young, addressing the practice of inserting firms into contracts without bids or competitive proposals, says, "Good government means the jobs should go to the most qualified firms offering the best deal for taxpayers. Because we fully support the intent of the MWDBE ordinance, we want it to maintain a level of integrity worthy of everyone's support."

West Capital officials refused to publicly discuss their troubles with the city but issued this statement: "We stand by our year-end report, which was distributed to City Council, the city attorney, the mayor and members of the Municipal Court system prior to the contract renewal. We're shocked and dismayed that the city attorney would claim that we are a non-performing company. The numbers do not indicate such."

On November 16, Robert Muhammad faxed a letter to West Capital, proposing that his company and West Capital launch a joint venture. At the time, Muhammad's Delinquent Recovery Inc. still did not have its own office or telephone numbers. The address and phone numbers listed on the company letterhead are those of Ron Wilson. (When the Press phoned the number recently and asked for Delinquent Recovery Inc., a woman replied, "You have the wrong number, sir.")

Although Delinquent Recovery apparently lacked the resources to mount a viable collections operation, Muhammad was confident enough to ask for not only the right to collect 450-day delinquent tickets but for a substantial portion of West Capital's existing contract as well.

For instance, Muhammad requested that his company be given "direct access" to $2 million worth of West Capital's backlog of 210-day to 450-day delinquent tickets each month. He also asked that West Capital pay Delinquent Recovery 40 percent of its fees generated from collection of tickets that are 240 to 449 days delinquent.

In addition to wanting a big piece of West Capital's action, Muhammad also asked West Capital to provide "technical and resource support necessary to perform the work" and to handle Delinquent Recovery's accounting and collection statistics.

To make it official, Muhammad asked that West Capital deposit $5,000 in escrow to create the "DRI and West Capital Financial Services Corp. Joint Venture." He also asked West Capital to issue a letter of intent for a joint venture within 24 hours and to execute a contract with his company within a week.

Muhammad admits that his proposal was "pretty blanket. I mean, I just said, 'Well, I'll ask for the stars and maybe they'll give me the moon.'"

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