CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Legislative leaders say they want to pursue a bill aimed at ensuring contractors accused in fraud cases don’t continue to receive work from state government.
Their desire was expressed as part of an ongoing discussion over three contracts that were bid to the Bayliss & Ramey contracting firm after the Dec. 13, 2016, guilty plea of Mark R. Whitt, former president of the company, to a count of wire fraud conspiracy in U.S. District Court.
A state legislative audit presented earlier this year took the state Division of Highways to task for not more aggressively pursuing debarment of Bayliss & Ramey and its officers.
State highways officials had said normal protocol is to keep a close eye on the legal process, and the normal trigger for debarment is a conviction.
“Questions arose: Were there tools in place, or could the department pursue debarment? While we concluded that yes there were tools in place — but is the current statute sufficient?” Legislative attorney Doren Burrell told members of the Post Audit Subcommittee.
Burrell said legislation to strengthen the state’s position has been under formulation.
The legislation would, in addition to being triggered by a conviction, consider other forms of pretrial diversion to kick off debarment proceedings, Burrell said.
Additional grounds for debarment under the proposed bill could include any conspiracy to circumvent state purchasing laws and making false statements in the process of bidding and contracting.
It also would make the vendor liable and make the debarment apply to subcontractors and others.
And it would prohibit contractors from hiring debarred individuals unless there’s permission from the state purchasing director.
“Were there any other reasons there were glitches in the law or deficiencies in the law that held up debarment? Would this have allowed the debarment to go forward if we had this legislation?” asked House Speaker Tim Armstead.
One factor in the Bayliss & Ramey case was communication — a matter of state officials knowing when federal pleas were entered, Burrell said.
And, he said, another was a matter of procedure. Whitt had been placed on a kind of pre-trial probation, a sort of formal acceptance of responsibility. But he had not yet been formally convicted. “This is designed to address that,” Burrell said.
Armstead made a motion, adopted by the rest of the committee, that the proposed legislation be introduced at the committee’s request.