Pittsburgh city employees bungled police software projects, inefficiently managed federal funds and questionably favored a software contractor, according to an internal report obtained by PublicSource.
The November 2016 report from the Office of Municipal Investigations [OMI] describes numerous blind spots, saying a lack of critical records hampered a city investigator’s ability to lay blame for incomplete and delayed projects paid for with hundreds of thousands of dollars from a federal grant.
The internal city investigation ultimately cleared Deputy Public Safety Director Linda Rosato-Barone and former Sgt. Anthony Cortopassi of specific allegations lodged against them, but it paints a troubling picture for those hoping the city got its money’s worth on tax-funded projects to improve public safety.
Former police chief Cameron McLay accused Rosato-Barone and Cortopassi of knowingly entering into contracts and payments with contractor B-Three Solutions for “subpar software” and falsifying documents related to the federal grant that ended in 2013.
Those allegations were unfounded, according to the report.
But instead of cutting-edge technology, Pittsburgh got years of delays on projects that Rosato-Barone supervised. Deadlines passed. Projects were paid for but never implemented.
In November 2015, McLay took his misgivings about the city’s handling of technology projects to the FBI and OMI and ordered a freeze on payments to Plum-based B-Three.
The FBI confirmed to PublicSource that its probe ended. Mayor Bill Peduto said he learned in 2017 that there was no finding of criminal activity.
Two city watchdog agencies continue to investigate related matters, but the 2016 OMI report shows that the city investigation into Rosato-Barone ended days after McLay announced his unrelated resignation on Nov. 4, 2016.
After McLay left, Rosato-Barone’s career accelerated.
She was promoted to assistant chief and named deputy Public Safety director. She also regained responsibility for police technology, a role she lost while on medical leave. Since taking charge of the IT projects again in the last year, Rosato-Barone has been involved in discussions with B-Three to restart work on projects that missed deadlines five years ago, according to city emails recently released to PublicSource under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law.
Among delayed projects are two systems at the heart of a whistleblower lawsuit from city police officer Souroth Chatterji, who resigned on June 4. The lawsuit claims Chatterji faced retaliation from Rosato-Barone and intimidation from Cortopassi for uncovering “waste and wrongdoing” after examining police technology on McLay’s orders. Both the city and Rosato-Barone deny the allegations and want the lawsuit dismissed. Chatterji’s attorney declined to comment. Cortopassi, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment.
B-Three continues to defend its work. The company’s president has balked at accusations that projects had been unfinished and instead blamed the city and McLay specifically for not implementing them. The company referred PublicSource to attorney Komron Maknoon for comment.
"B-Three has maintained since day one that their company provided quality services to the City of Pittsburgh,” Maknoon said in a written statement.
While the OMI investigation uncovered numerous problems with police technology and the management of a federal grant, it falls well short of saying who bears responsibility and states: “The city’s poor control over record management and antiquated data retrieval systems compromised the validity of any possible findings.”
Notably, the report avoids a finding of “not resolved.” That disposition would signal an investigator lacked information to determine the validity of misconduct allegations, according to OMI policies.
City employee Barbara (Arroyo) Morello conducted the investigation. Though the allegations against Rosato-Barone and Cortopassi were unfounded, Morello wrote that the inquiry “unveiled a host of uncertainty into police technology software and brought upon more questions than answers.”
Larry Scirotto, who oversaw the police bureau’s internal investigations unit and helped manage the city’s OMI staff, said police leaders need to take responsibility for problems with the bureau’s technology.
“We paid for projects that were not operationalized,” said Scirotto, who is now retired. “The organization must accept it as an overall failure.”
City and Public Safety spokesmen said city employees would not comment, citing ongoing litigation. McLay declined to comment. Rosato-Barone’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Was the money wasted?
Among the critical questions: Why did the city spend so much for incomplete projects?
Back in 2009, Pittsburgh hoped to replace cumbersome, manual work with custom-made computerized systems. Even better, the U.S. Department of Justice offered to foot the bill with a special grant to inject stimulus money into local economies after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Pittsburgh was eligible for $1.9 million in federal funds, including $675,000 for projects later commissioned from B-Three.
Included were a $150,000 system to automate the tracking of evidence and a $75,000 system to modernize efficiency and oversight of criminal cases. The goal of the projects was to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of city police.
This March, Chief Scott Schubert confirmed they were never implemented.
The city had promised the federal government swift work.
Pittsburgh's 2009 grant application lists six technology projects, including items Rosato-Barone said had been on the bureau's "wish list." The city planned to commission and fully deploy each system by the end of the next year.
Under that timeline, police would have been using barcodes by summer 2010 to track the location of evidence from the crime scene through a suspect’s prosecution. By December 2010, detectives investigating the city’s most serious cases would have been using the streamlined system to replace their jumbles of notebooks and computer files.
Things didn’t move along as planned.
Timeline of federal grant work between Pittsburgh police and B-Three Solutions
By December 2012, city employees, including Cortopassi, were so worried about missing the upcoming grant deadline that they requested an extension. The request cites how thorough the city’s testing process is and staff holiday leave as reasons for the delay. The Justice Department said no.
The February 2013 grant deadline passed with at least $125,500 worth of work still considered incomplete on five B-Three projects, including the evidence tracking and case management systems. Spending grant money after a deadline is allowed in some cases, though the Justice Department indicated that projects should be finished on time.
B-Three provided the city invoices before the grant period ended, which the city used to access grant funds before that work was considered finished, according to email and payment records.
Sandra Ganster is a former personnel and finance manager with the Pittsburgh police who went on voluntary leave in February 2013 and was soon put on mandatory leave related to the scandal surrounding former police chief Nathan Harper. She was fired in 2015.
Ganster had managed the 2009 stimulus grant. She said she only paid invoices and asked for reimbursement for work when she was told the work was complete. Ganster said she left her job before the grant deadline and before invoices for unfinished work were reimbursed.
“I asked for completed invoices,” Ganster said on Monday. “The work had to be done. We talked about it at meetings for [at least] a year.” Ganster said she was not aware of anyone falsifying reports to the Department of Justice.
Final payment to B-Three in May 2013 signaled that work should have been finished. But Morello wrote in the OMI report that it wasn’t, and she described the city’s handling of the invoices as mismanagement of grant funds.
Pittsburgh’s request for a chunk of funding that sat largely unspent for three months appears to run counter to the Justice Department’s guideline that grant recipients request the “minimum needed” cash to make payments “immediately or within 10 days.”
Scirotto said city investigators struggled to find evidence to show who in the police bureau signed off on B-Three’s work as complete. In most cases, he said, that documentation could not be found.
A spokeswoman from the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs declined to comment on the city’s report.
B-Three President Mike Walton has emphasized that McLay froze the projects but that the company had finished their development work.
"You do realize that the chief [McLay] ordered those projects stopped, right? They were not implemented because the city stopped them,” Walton told PublicSource before publication of a Feb. 14 story.
That McLay ordered a freeze on payments to B-Three is not disputed, but both the OMI report and grant documents show that grant-funded projects should have been in regular use well before McLay was hired in September 2014.
The police bureau did implement some of B-Three’s grant projects, but a recently obtained document from April 2017 shows B-Three describing the evidence tracking system as only “approximately 90% developed” when McLay froze payments to B-Three. The April 2017 statement of work explains that two key development tasks needed to be finished.
A similar April 2017 statement of work describes development of the city’s case management system as 85 percent complete when the project was “halted.” The document explains that a “case form” still needed to be developed, though variations of the form had already been developed.
Morello also points out delays in a $250,000 grant-funded computerized system to monitor items sold to local pawn shops. In an April 2017 memo, B-Three wrote that the system was “deployed into production” in summer 2015. The memo makes no mention of the 2013 grant deadline but says the project had been frozen at the beginning of a pilot with local stores.
Morello’s report also questioned the value of a $50,000 grant-funded project to add text-message alerts to a Public Safety website developed by B-Three. According to the report, Morello found the website to be outdated, and it contained no text alerts.
The city’s grant application said the project will make the website “even more beneficial” to the community, though Morello described it as “fatuous in capacity and grossly underutilized.”
Is it nobody’s fault?
Rather than a “wish list,” the report suggests the city instead got poor project management, inefficiency and patchy record-keeping.
Rosato-Barone is listed as the supervisor of the police unit responsible throughout the grant period and worked closely on projects built by B-Three.
But in the investigation, she attributed much of the responsibility for managing deadlines and milestones to subordinates.
Indeed, Rosato-Barone took extended medical leave for more than a year after a serious car accident in July 2012, the report said. That leave coincides with the end of the grant. However, several sources told PublicSource that she remained closely involved in tech projects while away.
An annual report, listed current as of March 2013, names her as commander in charge of the projects, and her name appears on all related invoices, including a final batch paid in May 2013.
Grant-funded projects commissioned from
|Pawn Shop Database||$250,000||Create electronic database for pawn shops to inform police of transactions.|
|Evidence Tracking||$150,000||Automatically track evidence from crime scene through the end of a court case.|
|Officer Deployment System||$100,000||Track officer locations and costs associated with deployment.|
|Case Management||$75,000||Modernize case files and improve oversight of criminal investigations.|
|Court Check-in System||$50,000||Automate check-in of police officers at court.|
|Community Text Alerts||$50,000||Add text alerts to the city's community safety website.|
Rosato-Barone couldn’t recall specific deadlines for Morello but said Cortopassi or Charles Rodriguez, another officer under her supervision, would have been familiar with them.
“He continued to try and keep these going,” Rosato-Barone said of Rodriguez, according to the report. “[T]hese are the ones that when I came back, I was asking where are we at with these.”
Rodriguez, who now works for the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Department, retired from the police bureau in May 2015. He did not return calls from PublicSource. Cortopassi retired from the bureau last year.
Commander Cheryl Doubt filled Rosato-Barone’s post during her medical leave and shortly after she returned. Then McLay gave his chief of staff, Commander Eric Holmes, control over police technology; Holmes is listed on the OMI report with McLay as having made the allegations against Rosato-Barone and Cortopassi.
Doubt, who retired in 2015, described herself as far from tech-savvy and said the position came with so many responsibilities — including managing seized property, police records, warrants and the bureau’s interactions with the courts — that it could have been split between two commanders.
She struggled to recall details on specific projects and said Rosato-Barone and Rodriguez could provide more information.
“I didn’t really fully know everything that was going on, including that B-Three situation,” Doubt told PublicSource in April. She could not be reached for comment on the report.
Cortopassi described the three-person computer unit as burdened with work, according to the city investigation.
“You name it, if it had a computer, they dumped it on us … so there wasn’t a lot of time to work on them,” Cortopassi said, according to the report.
Like B-Three, Cortopassi faulted McLay for some of the delay.
“Chief McLay suspended them recently. But they were ongoing,” Cortopassi said, according to the report.
The former chief recently explained that he halted payments while investigations related to the company’s projects ran their course. At the time of his resignation, McLay said he believed those probes to be active and ongoing.
In his lawsuit, Chatterji claims Rosato-Barone had the city’s OMI investigation involving her shut down and influenced the police bureau to end its cooperation with the FBI investigation. In a brief asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed, the city described the allegations as “false or just flat-out bizarre.” The city argues that Chatterji fails to explain how Rosato-Barone could have shut down an internal investigation and stresses that the police bureau does not control the FBI.
Chatterji is suing the city and Rosato-Barone, who he alleges retaliated against him for his investigation into B-Three projects. He says she blocked his promotion to sergeant earlier this year.
While the OMI investigation ended with important questions unanswered, the report deemed it complete enough to clear Cortopassi and Rosato-Barone.
Morello left OMI a few days after completing her report for a job as an emergency management planner in the Department of Public Safety.
OMI is still investigating related matters. On May 17, Rosato-Barone revealed in a court filing that she filed an internal complaint in November against Chatterji and others involved in the B-Three investigation, including McLay, Holmes and Scirotto.
B-Three filed a civil action against Chatterji in April for the claims he made about the company’s work in his lawsuit. To defend itself, the company’s lawyer is seeking documents from the city regarding the status of their IT projects for the police bureau.
“B-Three will be happy to make a statement after the city provides the documents, which were requested under the Right-to-Know law and by subpoena,” Maknoon wrote in the Tuesday statement.
Is the city too dependent?
In the November 2016 report, Morello scolds the city for oversight failures and suggests the city is overly dependent on B-Three.
According to a memo quoted in the report, former city contract employee Nicole DeMotto — hired under McLay to help modernize the bureau’s technology — uncovered what she viewed as a “pattern of anti-competitive practices” related to B-Three.
DeMotto (who was also named in Rosato-Barone’s internal complaint) wrote that B-Three withheld crucial documentation on its computer systems, making it “impossible” for the police bureau to choose another vendor, and stipulated that the city’s warranties would be voided if another vendor was allowed into the data structure.
However, in recently obtained emails from last summer, B-Three appeared to be in the process of sharing technical information with a vendor being considered to replace the police bureau’s records management system.
Documents for some B-Three projects appear to protect the company from having to clean up problems caused by others if either city employees or other contractors alter the company’s systems in “any material way.” How strictly the stipulation would be enforced is unclear in the documents.
DeMotto, who left the police bureau shortly after McLay’s resignation, has not responded to numerous attempts to contact her. Chatterji’s lawsuit claims that DeMotto signed a non-disclosure agreement that prevents her from discussing her findings.
In her report, Morello pointed out difficulty obtaining records from the police bureau, the Department of Innovation and Performance [I&P] and the controller’s office. She also lamented barriers to transparency and internal checks and balances on B-Three projects.
City Controller Michael Lamb told PublicSource that he doesn’t recall being contacted by OMI regarding this investigation. He said that when OMI does contact his office, it tends to request contracts and statements of work, documents that are “readily accessible.”
“We’ve never had a situation where OMI asked us for something and we couldn’t produce it,” he said.
Lamb added that a private firm, Maher Duessel, performs an audit of all federal money the city spends each year and said those reports didn’t raise any of the red flags the OMI investigation did. The firm did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
B-Three, Morello wrote, essentially made the city dependent on its services “by providing the guise of cost effective systems.” Morello points out that neither the B-Three projects nor its $300,000 annual maintenance contract was vetted by the city’s law department or city council; they also did not go through the public bidding process, which is not highly unusual.
When recently asked to approve more funding for B-Three, several council members said they felt they had no choice but to give the company up to $572,640 over the next two years to keep vital systems up and running. B-Three still works closely with the city and a few of its employees have desks in I&P, Lee Haller, the department’s director, said in interviews earlier this year.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, also has concerns about the handling of projects created by B-Three.
“There certainly do appear to be irregularities in the accountability structure related to software development,” Pittinger said, citing work she believed to be unfinished.
Rosato-Barone told Morello during the investigation that the responsibility for choosing vendors rested with Pittsburgh’s City Information Systems (now known as I&P).
“[W]e could tell you what we needed to do and they had to figure out a way of how to get it. We relied on them to tell us which is the best way to go,” Rosato-Barone said, according to the OMI report.
Meanwhile, Sylvia Harris, assistant director of operations in the city’s I&P Department, gave Morello a different assessment. Police would sometimes go straight to B-Three to conceive projects, Harris said. Then, after programs were written and tested, Harris' department would put it into production.
“It’s like we are the equivalent to Geek Squad, we would install it and leave,” Harris told Morello. Harris also disclosed that she briefly worked as a B-Three employee before being hired by the city.
Rosato-Barone explained that government moves slower than private industry and that sometimes technology develops so quickly that projects are outdated by the time they’re deployed. She defended B-Three as receptive to the city’s needs and for filling important roles after the city lost IT staff, the report said.
But she told Morello that she never forgets that contractors like B-Three are in the business of making money.
“[W]e have to get the most bang for our buck,” Rosato-Barone said, according to the report, “so we were all conscious of how can we do the best we can for the amount of money we have…”
J. Dale Shoemaker is PublicSource's government and data reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or 412-515-0069. You can follow him on Twitter @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely at PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL.
This story was fact-checked by Abigail Lind.
Updated 6/20/2018 at 12:45 p.m.