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Fired SC director 'tainted' process giving husband a $600K contract, report says

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 4/23/2021 Maayan Schechter, The State (Columbia, S.C.)

Apr. 23—COLUMBIA, S.C. — Former State Accident Fund Director Amy Cofield, fired by the governor after she was accused of helping her husband get a lucrative contract with the agency she ran, said at the time that his hiring was necessary because her department struggled to find a company to do much needed programming work after receiving no bids.

But a new report by state Inspector General Brian Lamkin — performed at the request of Gov. Henry McMaster — says Cofield involved herself in the procurement process that eventually landed her husband a $600,000 contract, creating a conflict of interest that was both "organizational and personal."

The State Accident Fund's procurement process for hiring a project manager to oversee a new records program was "tainted by a personal conflict of interest between Cofield and her spouse, as well as Cofield's continued involvement in the procurement process up through the interview panel's selection of Terrapin Cofield's husband) as the PM," said the report, published Thursday.

"Cofield did not recuse herself from the procurement, nor did she heed the state ethics law and SAF employee policies," it added.

McMaster fired Cofield in February and asked the inspector general to investigate whether Cofield played any role in the hiring of her husband, Jimmy Terrapin. In conversations with reporters, Cofield had maintained innocence, saying she was unfairly targeted by a member of her staff.

The Governor's Office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

In a more than 130-page response to the report, Cofield through her attorney wrote that the inspector general's summary is "wrought with absences of critical information, citations of only portions of script or conversations, as well as unsubstantiated, and inaccurate conclusions."

"The report also eliminates any context from his alleged 'facts,' " the response says.

In one case, Cofield denies a claim made by the inspector general's report that she ever prohibited Matthew Hansford, her deputy director and chief procurement officer, from engaging in conversations with other bidders competing for the contract.

In another instance, Cofield disagrees that her husband, who has information technology experience, ever interfered with the procurement process by assisting with "boiler plate language" to help draft the procurement requirements.

Cofield, in a series of text messages with The State on Friday, again defended her actions, saying the report is an "exoneration of my actions."

"Gov. McMaster's procurement agency explicitly stated that awarding the contract to a firm which employed my husband was not a problem as long as I did not participate in the process and he did not have any ownership interest in the firm," Cofield said. "I did not participate in the process, and he had no ownership interest in the firm. ... I am very proud of what I did at the SAF. I went to work every day with a single mission to make the agency more effective and efficient and I was successful. Nothing in this report will ever change that."

The Post and Courier was the first to report on the inspector general's findings.

Report lays out how director's husband was hired

The State Accident Fund wanted to replace its claims management system, a software system that hadn't been upgraded since the 1990s, and it put out a request for help through a third-party consulting firm to find the right bidder.

In mid-August, Hansford emailed Cofield a list of 21 approved vendors for Terrapin to review, a list that was sent to Terrapin "within five minutes of receiving the email from Hansford," the inspector general report said.

A few months later in October, Hansford emailed 18 vendors looking for a quote. They included Globalpundits — who eventually landed the bid with Terrapin as the project manager — and Random Bit. But none of the 18 vendors responded in the 30-day window, it said.

Hansford, the report said, then asked about the "possibility of a vendor hiring Cofield's spouse" for the job.

On Dec. 3, the procurement officer responded, saying, "... based on the information provided, we don't believe it will be a problem so long as Amy's husband has no ownership stake in the companies and Amy [Cofield] is not involved in and does not influence the evaluation or selection process in any way," according to the report.

The report said Hansford forward the email, with the state ethics statute, to Cofield, who then sent it to her husband with the message, "Just FYI."

A day later, Hansford sent a second request to Globalpundits and Random Bit with a two-week deadline to submit a quote for work. Both responded, the report said, and Cofield forwarded the Random Bit quote to her husband.

Terrapin, the report said, replied, "Yep, that's Gerhard's wife. Will we know her per hour rate in time to make sure ours comes under?"

In response, Cofield wrote, "Hopefully I don't technically have to choose the lowest rate though. I just have to be able to explain why I did not."

Cofield, in a text message to The State, said the conversation has been taken out of context, arguing it's the procurement policy that "taking the lowest bid is not mandated. You have to pick the best for the price."

She claims she never shared confidential information with her husband, and said she never knew what GlobalPundits bid until the contract was signed.

"This was only saying they had an INTENT to bid," she told The State. "The email was sent to my husband because I wanted to know who Ungerer was. My husband used to work there."

The inspector general also wrote that, on Dec. 7, Hansford asked Random Bit to submit a proposal by Dec. 18, but they declined to provide one. And during the interview with the inspector general, Hansford "stated that Cofield instructed him not to respond to Random Bit's questions," Inspector General Lamkin wrote.

Hansford, Cofield's attorney wrote Lamkin, "did not refuse to respond to these questions as your report suggests. Instead, Mr. Hansford merely sought assurances that Random Bit intended to submit a proposal before the deadline, stating 'I will be more than happy to answer your questions.' Random Bit thereafter chose not to proceed."

On Dec. 17, at Cofield's request, Hansford chaired a five-person panel interview of Terrapin, according to the report.

"All of the panelists expressed their concerns and the poor optics regarding the appearance of a conflict of interest between Cofield and Terrapin," the report said, but "Hansford assured the panelists the MMO stated it could be done and 'signed off' on the process."

None of the panelists that included Hansford knew that Terrapin had prepared Globalpundits' proposal, the report said.

Terrapin was eventually hired as a contractor to do work for Lexington-based firm Globalpundits, assisting as a project manager.

In McMaster's letter to Lamkin, it showed Cofield's husband was slated to start work the first of January and end on Dec. 31, 2022.

The fee to work was $150 per hour for no more than 4,000 hours. The job order was signed on Jan. 6 by Hansford and Joseph Doyle, listed on LinkedIn as Globalpundits' vice president.

Conflicts of interest

In his findings, Lamkin wrote that the hiring of Cofield's husband showed two conflicts of interest: "organizational and personal."

The organizational conflict, Lamkin wrote, happened between the state agency and Globalpundits, which got an unfair advantage.

The personal, he said, was when the State Accident Fund selected Cofield's husband and Cofield "failed to comply with the requirements of the State Ethics Act."

"Cofield knew she could not supervise Terrapin, if selected as the PM, and Terrapin could not have an ownership interest in the company selected by SAF. This, however, did not absolve Cofield's compliance with the State Ethics Act requirements," Lamkin wrote.

Cofield, Lamkin said, engaged in the procurement process up through Terrapin's interview, when she called the agency's finance director, who sat in on the interview, to speak about the results.

"The finance director advised the SIG she told Cofield that she hated it was Terrapin because 'it'll look bad,' " the inspector general's report said. "The finance director further stated that Cofield agreed it would look bad and that there would be grumblings within the agency."

Cofield, to The State, defended the calls, but said the conversations were "limited to making sure that they all agreed and felt comfortable with the hiring without my being there."

Cofield told The State she did not know whether she would have done things differently in hindsight.

But she did add she wished she had not sent her husband the Random Bit email "because people take it out of context."

"I was caught in a Catch 22," she said.

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