Sheriff’s records on purchases show possible conflicts

Putting pen to paper, it’s not hard to see how a local office supply company racked up $1.7 million in business with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office since Hurricane Katrina.

Metro Business Supplies won the bid to become the primary purveyor of supplies to the Sheriff’s Office with a price list that featured, among other low-cost items, 12-packs of economy pens at 6 cents per pen. But in February 2012, Metro delivered $559.44 of Uni-ball pens priced at $2.59 apiece. Staplers were bid at $3.75 in 2007, but the sheriff has paid $22.99 recently for a different model.

And the company isn’t selling just the paper clips, folders, and other routine items listed on bid sheets from 2006 and 2007. Last year, Metro sold the jail Sony cameras, a shredder, wall-mounted maps, a DeLonghi coffee maker, tubs of butterscotch candies and more. Some of these items cost the sheriff more than shoppers throughout the New Orleans area would pay at retail stores.

The man at Metro who helped land the account is the son-in-law of the No. 2 person in the Sheriff’s Office. Metro, a family-run, Metairie-based company, is owned by Raymond Schlaudecker. His brother, Richard, is listed on the company’s website as a business consultant, though the owner said he left the company two years ago.

In 2007, Richard Schlaudecker married Christina Ursin-Schlaudecker, daughter of Gerald Ursin, chief deputy at the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Documents indicate that from late 2006 through mid-2007, Richard Schlaudecker was directly involved in the effort to secure what would become a long-term deal to sell office supplies to the parish prison complex. His name appears on Metro’s quote sheets and other correspondence with the Sheriff’s Office.

Ursin, a former New Orleans police commander, was hired at the jail in May 2008 to run the new Intake and Processing Center. That year, Metro’s billings grew to $400,000 — eight times more than the second-largest vendor’s.

Now Ursin is second-in-command to Sheriff Marlin Gusman. Ursin put in the order requesting more than 200 of the $2.59 Uni-ball pens in February 2012. The pens are for the use of Orleans Parish prison staff, Gusman spokesman Marc Ehrhardt said.

Further, the Schlaudeckers have been backers of Gusman’s political campaigns. Between 2006 and 2010, the sheriff collected $31,250 in contributions from Metro Business Supplies, an affiliated company called Metro Business Services and the Schlaudecker brothers.

In November 2006, the Sheriff’s Office asked three office supply companies for bids on dozens of basic items. Metro, which had been working with the jail for at least a year, was among the three to send price sheets. Dameron Pierson and DKI Office Furniture & Supplies also responded. Metro bid lowest on about two-thirds of the items and won the work.

The Sheriff’s Office conducted another round of bidding the following April, asking at least six companies to respond.

Four bids were considered: Metro, GBP Direct, Main Office Supply and Dameron Pierson.

A cover letter from the sheriff said the winning bidder would have the office supply business for six months.

Six years later, the winning company, Metro Business Supplies, remains the primary supplier of the office supplies at the Orleans Parish jail — billing the jail about $1.7 million since 2006, according to invoices reviewed by The Lens. Main Office Supply, the second-largest vendor, has done about $375,000 in business with the Sheriff’s Office since 2006.

Metro’s annual billings peaked in 2008, the year Ursin was hired, at $398,778. Ehrhardt attributed this spike to supplies for the new Intake and Processing Center, but he said that wasn’t related to Ursin.

“Regardless of when Chief Ursin became commander of the IPC,” Ehrhardt said, “he had no responsibility for purchasing, which was done through another OPSO department and according to all public bid laws.”

Ehrhardt also said that when the criminal and civil divisions of the Sheriff’s Office merged in 2010, Metro started to supply the civil division with most of its office supplies. The company billed the Sheriff’s Office for $257,000 that year.

The Sheriff’s Office has not produced a contract between it and Metro. Craig Frosch, an attorney who handles public-records requests for Gusman, cited state law that says public entities are not required to have contracts to purchase materials and supplies.

The 2007 bid worksheet is the only document establishing the seven-year business relationship. Frosch said the Sheriff’s Office has “not located any additional contract or bid documents.”

The director of the sheriff’s warehouse, Capt. Mary Goodwin, said she regularly puts office supplies out to bid, but she couldn’t provide proof. She defended the office’s purchases and took issue with any suggestion that she overpays or that Metro is a favored company.

In a recent interview at the warehouse, she said she does not approve every request by jail staffers, and before orders reach her desk, they must be approved by commanders.

She rattled off several companies that she said had sold office supplies to the Orleans Parish jail: “DKI, Dameron Pierson, Office Depot, Metro, GBD Direct, Future Image” and others.

“Metro has conducted a good amount of business with the OPSO,” said Ehrhardt in an email, “but these other companies have conducted various levels of business with the department too.”

The Lens asked Goodwin if spending $2.59 per pen was a wise use of limited jail dollars. Goodwin repeated her contention that the bidding process is fair and open.

She rejected comparisons between the bid sheets in 2006 and 2007 and the 2012 invoices: “Nothing is the same price as it was in 2006.”

According to Frosch, the arrangement was for “Metro to supply the listed items on an as-needed basis for the bid prices that were quoted. Other items that were not on the list may have been purchased by the Sheriff’s Office as stand-alone items not subject to bid requirements.”

Through Ehrhardt, Gusman and Ursin declined to comment for this story.

Asked about the $22.99 staplers, Goodwin said that they were high-quality. Ehrhardt said the jail stopped buying the cheaper ones because they kept breaking.

The Lens was not able to reach Richard Schlaudecker. Raymond Schlaudecker said his firm is not favored at the Orleans Parish jail.

Asked whether he had a current contract with the Sheriff’s Office, Schlaudecker said: “I’m not a part of whatever’s going on, don’t want to be a part of what’s going on down there.”

As for the family tie to Ursin, Schlaudecker said, “I’m not related to Gerald Ursin. That’s my brother, and what Jerry Ursin does at the criminal Sheriff’s Office, I have no idea. I have no contact with the gentleman.”

He said his brother left the company “probably two years ago.”

Raymond Schlaudecker said that it was “unfortunate and disheartening” that his business was under scrutiny.

“I’m an office supply guy,” he said. “I do my job. They get great pricing and great service.”

Schlaudecker also took issue with the $31,250 in contributions to Gusman from his family and related businesses.

“I don’t know where you are getting that information from,” he said.

äOn the Internet: This story is published in cooperating with the Internet news site The Lens, www.thelensnola.org.