DPH and the No Good, Terrible Conflict-of-Interest Year

Two public-health employees allegedly directed $1.2 million in public funds to a spouse’s company, just months after the department’s director was similarly accused.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera at a press conference in 2017 (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Two former Department of Public Health employees stand accused of corruption for allegedly directing a $1.2-million public contract to a firm that employed one of their spouses.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Heather Zalatimo, a former information technology systems engineer at the department, arguing that she steered the lucrative cybersecurity city contract to a company that her then-husband, Mark Zalatimo, worked for in 2016. As the regional sales manager for Fidelis Cybersecurity, Inc, Mark Zalatimo’s salary included sales commissions, though how much he made remains to be seen.

“You simply cannot steer a public contract to a company when you stand to benefit financially from that,” Herrera says. “You’re lining your own pocket with taxpayer money.”

Herrera also named Jeff Jorgenson, Zalatimo’s supervisor and former IT chief operating officer, in the lawsuit for his alleged role of signing off on the contract, despite knowing the marital connection to Fidelis. The City Attorney’s Office found that since at least December 2015 Mark Zalatimo had corresponded with his then-wife in her official role at DPH about the company’s products and told other employees to do the same.

In March and April 2016, Zalatimo had DPH test Fidelis products and then recommended them for purchase. By October of that year, Jorgenson signed the order and the city paid $1.2 million, money the lawsuit seeks to have returned.

The City’s Attorney Office is also pushing for Zalatimo to pay three times the amount she received, and for the three defendants to pay up to $5,000 for each violation.

Former-Director Barbara Garcia is also caught up in a conflict-of-interest investigation, revealed days after she unexpectedly resigned in August. Garcia allegedly used her position to direct city contracts to the California Institute of Integral Studies, where her wife Dorotea Reyna worked, the Examiner reported at the time. Since 2009, DPH has sent $1.2 million in funding to the SoMa university, until 2018 when Garcia amended her wife’s income on the city economic interest forms.

“Government service is a public trust,” Herrera said. “There is no room for someone to use their public position for personal gain.”

But at DPH, room evidently has been made.

Ida Mojadad is a staff writer at SF Weekly.
Imojadad@sfweekly.com |  @idamoj

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