The Fix Is In

At least that's what Janet Campbell claimed about construction bids at UCSF, where she soon found herself out of a job

Vivacious, articulate, and witty, Campbell is an Atlanta native who earned a master's degree in architecture from Georgia Tech and an M.B.A. from Georgia State. Arriving in San Francisco in 1991 after a series of emotionally devastating family crises, she was hired as a senior architect in the UCSF facilities management division at a salary of $55,000.

In interviews over the past five years with government investigators, Campbell has repeatedly alleged that her supervisors forced her to write specifications for roofing jobs at UCSF that gave an edge to products manufactured by Tremco Inc. of Beachwood, Ohio, one of the nation's larger suppliers of glues, caulkings, tar papers, tin flashing, and other roofing materials. When she complained in writing to higher-ups at UCSF about being ordered to draft proprietary specs, she was ostracized by co-workers and eventually assigned to a meaningless job in the archives, she says.

In February 1997, Campbell went to the FBI, alleging that Tremco's local sales representatives were presiding over the insertion of Tremco-friendly specs into architectural and engineering plans at UCSF -- to the university's detriment. Using her access to archives and databases, Campbell calculated that the proprietary specifications had caused UCSF roofing jobs to increase in cost by about 30 percent. She says she identified $1 million in excess costs caused by the ultra-restrictive specs on 10 UCSF roofing jobs.

In a sworn deposition, FBI agent Kraig R. Graham said Campbell claimed that "the price of repairs of doing a roofing job was excessively high and that she suspected that the roofing company Tremco was colluding, if you will, with certain building managers, superintendents, employees of her department."

Meeting Graham in a mall cafeteria, Campbell turned over UCSF bidding and contract documents. She suggested that the agent contact one of her supervisors, Julie Lau, for corroboration. Graham promised that he would not identify Campbell as a whistle-blower while interviewing her co-workers, but his method of investigation was rather ham-handed. For example, he interviewed Julie Lau at the Richmond District police station, apparently at her request, and asked her point-blank "if she had any knowledge of contract fixing or any fraud or impropriety within the department. ... I asked her specifically about roofing contractors. ... Lau did not and could not corroborate any of the information that Mrs. Campbell had given me." (Lau did not return repeated telephone calls requesting comment for this story.)

Graham used the same confrontational method with several of Campbell's other co-workers and superiors, asking them, "[Are you] aware of any contract fixing or kickbacks?" Not surprisingly, they all denied any such awareness. Nonetheless, Graham concluded, from reviewing Campbell's extensive documentation, that "there was the possibility of impropriety." In his deposition, the FBI agent said he was not sure that he hadn't inadvertently identified Campbell as the whistle-blower to the people he interviewed. Graham warned Campbell, "Keep your head down."

In September 1997, Graham presented Campbell's evidence to Assistant United States Attorney Ben Birch, who told Graham -- without further explanation -- that he "was reluctant to pursue prosecution," effectively killing the investigation. Before dropping the matter, Graham called Ronald Hicks, director of facilities management and construction for the UC system. "I told him that the FBI had received a complaint that there was possible contract fixing or fraud at the University of California, San Francisco, that involved a roofing contractor; and that I had conducted an investigation, and that the FBI wasn't going to pursue it; but based on my investigation, there may be some indication of a violation of the California Contract Code. He thanked me for the call. I recall him saying something to the effect that they had trouble with roofing contractors before and that he would look into it."

This was the first but not the last time that a law enforcement agency looked into Campbell's allegations and punted.

In March 1998, Campbell went on extended medical disability leave. When she returned in January 1999, she was abruptly terminated from her job. In a letter, UCSF officials said she was being laid off because she didn't know how to program certain engineering-design software. After unsuccessfully protesting with a formal grievance, she sued in federal court, alleging that she had been wrongfully canned for her whistle-blowing activities. She also started bending the ear of any government official, investigator, or journalist who would give her a second glance.

Investigators from the California Attorney General's and the state auditor's offices interviewed Campbell, who supplied them with piles of UCSF contract and bidding documents, internal memoranda, and charts highlighting what she claimed was a pattern of corruption in her erstwhile department. She also gave investigators the names and telephone numbers of several roofing-industry professionals who had published articles in trade magazines asserting that Tremco has long had a policy of instructing its sales reps to insinuate themselves into the lives of public officials in order to promote the use of proprietary specifications.

She gave investigators copies of a 1997 report in Midwest Roofer that published Tremco's internal guidelines encouraging sales reps to offer "free" spec writing to public officials in order to restrict use of materials to Tremco products. Campbell also steered government investigators to a 2000 report by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation, Waste and Abuse in Public School Roofing Projects. The path-breaking investigation concluded that by convincing public school district officials to use proprietary specs, Tremco and several other roofing companies siphoned off more than $6 million in excess profits from $38 million worth of roofing jobs. A Tremco spokesman says school officials selected his firm's materials on the basis of quality and that Tremco was not involved in any improper or illegal activities.

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