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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter5:28 pmJul 29, 20200

Idle snow plows and classic cars: Why Baltimore’s fleet manager was retired

A repair shop with close ties to Robert Gibson charged the city $775 for vehicle testing that was performed for as little as $175, an Inspector General report reveals

Above: Henke snow plows, which the city paid a 32% mark-up for in 2014, have sat dormant ever since in the Central Garage lot. (Office of Inspector General)

A report issued today by the Office of the Inspector General adds new details to an alleged six-year-long spree of fraud and malfeasance by a local vehicle repair shop and the former chief of Baltimore’s Fleet Management Division.

The Brew broke the story that Holabird Fleet Service, owner Lawrence F. Ward and general manager Daniel E. Foy stood accused of inflating the cost of labor and parts on a fleet service contract with the city that was terminated on February 3, 2020.

Five days earlier, Robert W. Gibson had been escorted out of the George F. Winfield Fleet Maintenance Facility on East Biddle Street, fingered by the Inspector General for multiple conflicts of interests while running the fleet division.

He was forced to retire from his $151,000 a year job. Also terminated was Robert J. (Rob) Schley, superintendent of fleet operations and Gibson’s right-hand man.

Nothing official was released at the time.

Today’s report by IG Isabel Mercedes Cumming offers a fairly comprehensive look at the fleet management scandal, while omitting the names of the people and companies involved. (NOTE: The Brew is supplying that information based on available records and interviews with well-informed sources.)

After winning the fleet contract from the Rawlings-Blake administration in 2014, “Vendor 1” (Holabird Fleet) did the following, according to the report:

• Submitted grossly inflated invoices for parts and labor.

• Overbilled the city $117,486 for snow plows. Six of those plows were found to be incompatible with city vehicles and “have sat idle on the Central Garage lot since 2014.”

• Used another company (identified by sources as Altec Industries) to perform specialized vehicle testing because Holabird Fleet had neither the equipment nor expertise to do the work.

• Charged up to five times the cost of vehicle testing. The report says that each test cost between $150 and $290, but Holabird charged the city $775.

• To cover up its overbilling, “Vendor 1 specifically requested that Vendor 2 invoice Vendor 1 directly and refrain from sending any invoices to the city.” (Sources say Altec was not involved in the scheme.)

Former Fleet Manager Robert Gibson (left) with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Deputy Division Director Chichi Nyagah-Nash in 2016. (Department of General Services)

Robert Gibson (suit and tie) with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2016. (General Services)

Cozy Relationship

Was Gibson, known to run fleet management with an iron fist, unaware of what “Vendor 1” was up to?

According to the report, the 42-year city government veteran had close ties with Holabird Fleet and its owner.

Gibson was often seen at the company’s facility, at 2200 Van Deman Street in southeast Baltimore, performing work on his classic cars.

He admitted to investigators that he stored one of his classic vehicles at the shop and kept a shipping container full of automotive parts on the premises.

A close Gibson relative, who also worked for fleet management, used Holabird as a base of operations for servicing his cars. “Upon leaving city employment, the relative immediately took employment with Vendor 1,” the report says.

A third city employee, identified as “FMD Manager” (Rob Schley), “admitted using Vendor 1’s facilities and equipment to perform work on a personal vehicle because the FMD Manager did not possess the necessary equipment at home.”

Schley, who reportedly owns a classic Mustang, told the Inspector General he paid for the parts supplied by Holabird Fleet, but did not produce any receipts or other documentation.

Reached at his Harford County home today, Gibson was asked about the allegations in the report.

“I don’t agree with it, and that’s all I have to say,” he said before hanging up. Schley could not be contacted.

As punishment for Holabird Fleet’s alleged transgressions, the city law department is seeking to “debar” the company, along with Ward and Foy, from bidding on city contracts for at least five years.

Ward has contested the suspension, hiring attorneys Lisa Harris Jones and Sean Malone as counsel. The Board of Estimates is scheduled to hear the case on September 9.

Holabird’s owner has vehemently denied all charges in a previous interview. He did not return a phone call and text message to his office today.

• To reach this reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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