NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) — An investigation into the alleged improper actions of New Orleans city employees, regarding the requested proposal for Advanced Broadband and Smart City Systems, has concluded.
On April 21, 2022, the Office of Inspector General began probing the matter after reports were made of the former Director of the Mayor’s Office of Utilities Jonathan Rhode and former city employee Christopher Wolff failing to disclose their association with Smart+Connected NOLA.
Smart+Connected NOLA is the company awarded the Request for Proposal contract to head the incorporation of expanded broadband access to New Orleans residents.
During a meeting on April 18, 2022, Chief Procurement Officer Julien Meyer reportedly learned that the CEO of IGNITE George Burciaga had a financial interest in the selected company, which is a violation of the City’s Home Rule Character.
Article XI 9-309 states, “No officer or employee of the City shall have a financial interest in any contract with the City.”
According to court documents, Rhodes and Wolff had a relationship with Qualcomm because of their company, Verge Internet, being a member of the Qualcomm team.
During a New Orleans City Council meeting on April 27, 2022, it was reported that the two provided information to Qualcomm who was submitting a Request for Information to the City of Los Angeles.
The OIG also mentioned that Wolff’s Conflict of Interest statement made no mention of:
- His ownership of Verge Internet
- Conversations with Burciaga about Verge Internet
- Any possible ventures noted in the “Qualcomm/ RFI Narrative 2021”
Investigators say Rhodes should have disclosed his interest in Verge and his relationship with Qualcomm in his 2021 Financial Disclosure Form. The same was said for Wolff during his statement.
Additionally, the OIG reports Burciaga, Rhodes and Wolff should have excluded themselves from participation in the Smart City solicitation.
New Orleans City Council Vice President Helena Moreno released a statement on the matter, where she emphasized the Inspector General reports confirmed the council’s concerns:
“Our investigation formed the basis for these troubling facts found by the OIG, which include accusations of violation of state criminal law, ethics violations, and clear conflicts of interest. From the start, the scope of the Smart Cities multi-million dollar project was unclear, but what was clear is that some of the city employees in charge of bringing the project online were molding and steering the contract to benefit their connections. I’m glad the Council stepped up to do this inquiry, and I believe it saved millions of taxpayer dollars from being wasted.
Lastly, we always said we would turn over our findings to criminal and investigative agencies who have specific powers to seize computers, phones, and other materials. This Council has taken our oversight role seriously, and we’ve been undeterred by rhetoric or politics – protecting the people’s money is our number one concern, and this report is a product of our efforts.”City Council Vice President Helena Moreno
The violations being brought against the employees are false swearing, filing or maintaining false public records and participation in certain transactions involving the governmental entity.
The report has since been turned over to the Chief Administrative Office, The Board of Ethics, and the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office for actions deemed necessary.
Read full Report of Investigation:
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