Beaufort News

Lawsuit: Cleaning company claims Beaufort County rigged bids, exploited the disabled

The owner of a local cleaning company is suing Beaufort County, accusing officials of devising a contract bidding scheme that resulted in exploitation of disabled adults.

The suit, filed earlier this week by Carolina Cleaning owner Steven Molloy, claims that, in 2012, administration leaders allowed the county’s Disabilities and Special Needs Department to unfairly bid on cleaning contracts for public facilities that Carolina Cleaning had serviced for years.

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The following year, a contract between DSN and the Beaufort County Parks and Leisure Services was approved, allowing disabled adults enrolled in DSN programs to begin cleaning county recreation buildings.

The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette reported at the time that there were about 14 people — referred to as consumers by DSN — working on the cleaning contract.

Mitzi Wagner, a former DSN executive director, told the newspapers in 2013 that work programs help consumers gain skills that can improve self-sufficiency and confidence.

Among its many accusations, Molloy’s lawsuit claims that “Beaufort County employees allowed DSN and PALS staff to sit in on bid meetings that discussed pricing and strategy,” and the departments used “confidential, proprietary information to assemble their bids.”

This collaboration unfairly set up county departments as both the bidder and contractor, to the detriment of Carolina Cleaning and other private bidders, the suit — which seeks unspecified damages and was served to county officials during a public comment session at a recent Beaufort County Council meeting — alleges.

During the bidding process, county officials “took advantage of (Malloy), flagrantly lied and intentionally worked against him,” the suit says.

Carolina Cleaning’s 2012 bid for county cleaning services was more than $88,000, while DSN bid about $52,000, according to memo from the county’s purchasing department included in the lawsuit.

That memo indicates a selection committee — including staff from DNS and PALS — “reviewed all proposals, interviewed each vendor, and selected DSN’s proposal as the number one ranked vendor.”

Beaufort County’s code section on purchasing and bidding regulations says, “All public purchases should be made in a manner which provides for the greatest economy for the taxpayer, the fairest selection of vendor, and the prevention of conflicts of interest.”

Molloy also claims the county paid DSN’s consumers “under minimum wage, while using federal Medicaid monies to pay their supervisors, who were paid well above the minimum wage.”

The suit alleges Molloy was told the “disabled adults would paid … at times only $1 to $3 hourly.”

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act does allow for sub-minimum wage payment in certain circumstances, however there are strict standards for how the act can be applied to workers with disabilities.

County administrator Gary Kubic, who held that same position in 2012, said earlier this week that Molloy’s “complaint is without merit; its adjudication will confirm it.”

A preliminary hearing in the civil case is scheduled for next March.

Molloy’s attorney said that, until then, the lawsuit “documents will speak for themselves” and would not comment further.