Campaign 2010

Oct 25, 2012

New Documents Show Company Continued to Receive Taxpayer Dollars, Despite Collins’ Claims

New county documents show that, under Chris Collins’ leadership, Erie County continued giving his company thousands of dollars long after he pledged to halt the controversial payments. Collins was kicked out of office as County Executive amid a torrent of criticism for the county giving a contract to a company owned by Collins. After being criticized for the abuse of taxpayer funds, Collins claimed to cancel the contract and stop all payments from the county to his company.  Newly uncovered County records show that, despite Collins’ claims, his company continued to receive payments for more than a year, further enriching himself at the expense of Erie County taxpayers.

“Chris Collins represents the worst kind of politician, one who abuses his office to line his own pockets,” said Josh Schwerin, Northeast Press Secretary at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  “Despite claiming to withdraw his bid and forgo all payments after getting caught, Collins’ company secretly continued to receive taxpayer funds and he vetoed the legislature’s attempts to prevent him from committing future scams.”

Background

February 2009: Collins’ Company Awarded $90K County Contract. In February 2009, it was reported that, after three years of service to the county, Armor Electric Motor Repair’s contract would go to Collins’ company, Volland Electric Equipment. The $90,000 contract was to fix thousands of sewer system motors. [Buffalo News, 2/26/09]

Collins Bypassed Legislature Approval Without Disclosing His Stake In The Company. According to the Buffalo News, Collins “bypassed” normal channels to get the contract approved. “The Collins team had bypassed the Legislature and quietly asked the state-appointed control financial board to accept Volland's low bid, with no mention of Collins' stake in the company,” the article read. [Buffalo News, 2/26/09]

Control Board Director Found Collins’ Move Suspicious, Alerted County Legislature. According to the Buffalo News, “The control board's executive director, Kenneth J. Vetter, found it odd that the contract had not first gone to the Legislature for approval, so he contacted the Legislature's staff. That was the first the staff had heard about it.” [Buffalo News, 2/26/09]

Community Heavily Criticized Collins Over Conflict Of Interest. Following the revelation of the Volland Electric contract, several prominent community figures criticized Collins over the perceived conflict of interest:

Buffalo New Columnist: “Something About It Doesn’t Feel Quite Right.” In February 2009, Buffalo News columnist James Heaney criticized Collins for promoting Volland Electric’s contract bid by going around usual channels to get it approved, noting that “something about it doesn’t feel quite right.” He observed, “But if Collins wants to go down that road, it behooves him to be completely aboveboard. Instead, he comes off as being sneaky.” [Buffalo News, 2/26/09]

County Legislator: “There Is An Ethics Issue Here.” “I think there is an ethics issue here,” said Legislator Daniel M. Kozub, who served as chairman of the committee that handles sewer district matters. “And there is an issue that this should have come before the Legislature before it went to the control board.” [Buffalo News, 2/26/09]

UB Professor: Suspicion Of Collins’ Actions Is Unavoidable. “There really is no way for Collins to avoid the suspicion of a conflict,” said University of Buffalo professor Bill Baumer, who specializes in ethics. “He said he did not influence anything. On the other side of it, people in the purchasing department know they work for the county executive, and they don't want to do anything to make him angry.” [Buffalo News, 3/04/09]

Buffalo News Columnist: Collins Violated “Ethics 101.” “I am not sure what prompted the attack of common sense. But all he had to do was consult the Ethics 101 handbook,” wrote Buffalo News columnist Donn Esmonde. “There is a part under ‘Conflict of Interest’ about not having companies that you partly own bid for, much less get, county contracts.” [Buffalo News, 3/04/09]

County Legislature Responded By Passing Laws To Curb Political Favoritism In County Contracts. In March 2009, the Erie County Legislature passed two laws intended to avoid a repeat of the Volland Electric conflict of interest incident. The first would give the Legislature power to delete appropriations for contracts that “smack of political favoritism.” The second would “raise the bar that contractors must clear to prove they are responsible bidders for county public works jobs.” [Buffalo News, 3/13/09]

Collins Vetoed Both Laws, Used Procedural Move To Prevent Override Attempts. In May 2009, the Buffalo News reported that Collins had vetoed both laws. Furthermore, he used his “null and void” authority when he vetoed the bills, thus preventing the Legislature from enacting the bills over his veto and preventing the law from being put to a public referendum. [Buffalo News, 5/03/09] 

March 2009: Collins Canceled Volland Electric Contract, Vowed To Forgo Outstanding Payments From County. On March 2, 2009, Collins announced Volland Electric Equipment Corporation would withdraw from the $90,000 county contract and would forgo any outstanding payments owed by the county. He also vowed that Volland and the rest of the companies in which he held an “ownership interest” would refrain from county bids. “However, I have determined that even the appearance of a potential conflict of interest under the law is something I cannot allow,” Collins said. “Therefore, effective immediately, I have asked Volland Electric to withdraw its bid on this contract and forego any funds current owed to it by Erie County. In addition, I have asked any company in which I have an ownership interest to refrain from bidding on county work.” [Collins Press Release, 3/02/09]

March 2009–July 2010: Volland Electric Continued To Receive Payments As A County Vendor. According to the Erie County Division of Purchasing, Volland Electric received six payments from the county as a vendor after March 2, 2009. The payments totaled $5,103.11. Two such payments occurred within a month of Collins’ announcement. [Erie County Division of Purchasing, Vendor 108550]

Date

Document Number

Amount

3/20/09

2000169393

$789.84

3/27/09

2000170559

$1,720.75

4/03/09

2000171226

$2,288.66

8/28/09

2000189224

$90.00

10/30/09

2000199219

$126.74

7/23/10

2000248449

$87.12

TOTAL: $5,103.11

[Erie County Division of Purchasing, Vendor 108550] 


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