Black Muslim fraud case raises questions over government contracts
By Thomas Peele, Bay Area News Group
As the Vallejo City Council was about to reject a deal with a private security firm in 2011 that had sought to guard a new ferry terminal, a man in a white, open-collared shirt and dark jacket stepped toward a microphone and went on a tirade.
Basheer Fard Muhammad claimed to be an executive of BMT International Security Services, run from a small Black Muslim temple near downtown Oakland. Muhammad sharply refuted the city’s assistant public works director who said the firm’s references didn’t check out. Four couldn’t be reached and one that answered — an Oakland developer — claimed to have never heard of the company.
“It’s not our fault if you can’t contact our references,” Muhammad snapped. “We can contact them on a daily basis. The process is not fair. There’s discrimination going on. We intend to stand up for our rights.” But the council rejected both his argument and his company.
Three years later, as Muhammad, temple leader Dahood Bey, Bey’s mother Rory Parker and four others face 43 felony charges combined for fraud, grand theft and other crimes that include seeking and sometimes winning government security contracts with allegedly bogus licenses and references, Vallejo stands out as the rare government agency whose diligence kept it from being defrauded.
In contrast, Alameda County and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles paid BMT nearly $250,000 combined before discovering they had been duped with allegedly fake insurance papers.
Court records, public documents and interviews suggest that BMT’s poorly prepared bid proposals, sometimes containing spelling and grammatical errors while falsely claiming company executives attended universities such as Harvard, Princeton and Duke, were not flagged by low-level government employees assigned to review them.
Those agencies as well the city of Oakland and the Port of Oakland, which were both poised to give BMT contracts earlier this year until an investigation by this newspaper revealed false statements in its bid proposals, “were asleep at the wheel,” said Richard Brown, a lawyer who sued the county on behalf of a man beaten by an unlicensed BMT guard at a county building.
There was “sufficient information to see that this company and individuals were connected to the remnants of the Black Muslim Bakery,” said Brown, referring to Your Black Muslim Bakery. Prosecutors have called the bakery, which doubled as a Black Muslim self-help center, a wide-ranging criminal enterprise whose members committed murder, torture, real estate fraud and identity theft. Several private security businesses, apparently without state licenses, had been affiliated with it before its collapse in 2007 following the slaying of journalist Chauncey Bailey. Its leader, Yusuf Bey IV, was convicted of ordering Bailey killed.
Both Dahood Bey, who had taken the Bey name after being born Cyrano Colar, and Muhammad, also known as Benjamin Jones, were prominent bakery members with criminal records. Yet their roles in BMT seemed to go unnoticed as the company sought government work.
In Alameda County, a $25,000-a-year clerical assistant had the job of checking the company’s references, records show. One of them was for work BMT claimed to have done at a Walnut Creek office of Palo-Alto based Anacor Pharmaceuticals. The assistant reported contacting an Anacor employee in Walnut Creek, but it’s unclear to whom she spoke; the employee isn’t named, and there are no property, business or phone records indicating the company had an office in Walnut Creek the year the reference check was made.
An Anacor spokeswoman didn’t return phone calls.
Nevertheless, the county clerical assistant wrote that the Anacor employee praised BMT, giving it a rating of 5 on a 1-to-5 scale for attributes such as training, reliability and documentation.
“They had great uniforms,” the clerical assistant quoted that person as saying. Among the items BMT was assigned to guard were “hand rails and stairs,” the aide noted.
What may have figured into the contract being awarded is the county’s Small Local Emerging Business program, designed to help local companies get government work. The criminal charges include allegations that BMT submitted fraudulent documents to that program, which is run by the county auditor’s office. Alameda County Auditor-Controller Patrick O’Connell could not explain in an interview Wednesday why his office failed to detect any fraud. He said his staff found that “all the forms and everything was in order” when they visited the BMT office and reviewed tax returns and income.
When asked if enough was done to check out BMT before the contract was awarded, the county’s top lawyer, Donna Ziegler, replied, “The county did its job based on the information that was reasonably available to us at the time.”
But a government watchdog said the governments that gave contracts to BMT didn’t do enough.
“It is pretty obvious that due diligence wasn’t done,” said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project On Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C., organization that scrutinizes public contracts and procurement. “You call the references. You check licenses. It is simply critical that a contract get thoroughly vetted.”
The county terminated the contract after being sued by a man who had been beaten by an unlicensed BMT guard and discovering BMT had given it an allegedly forged insurance certificate.
In court papers, the county claimed it had no legal requirement to check the document’s legitimacy when hiring BMT.
Its procurement manual, a county lawyer wrote, “is expressly intended and characterized not as imposing mandatory obligations (on employees) but as a reference guide that extends discretion to the county staff. The manual does not impose a mandatory duty on the county to ensure BMT actually obtained a valid insurance policy.”
The county was far from alone in its lack of vetting of BMT. The Los Angeles housing authority also accepted an allegedly forged insurance document when it gave BMT a $1.55 million five-year contract last year. The authority terminated the contract after this newspaper’s reporting, but has not explained why it originally approved it.
Signs that something was wrong about BMT hid in plain sight. A publicly accessible database of security company licenses listed an owner and address that did not reconcile with contract documents. Few of the more than two dozen names of security guards BMT gave the city of Oakland came up in the same database.
Credentials varied in each bid. BMT claimed to the port that its CFO was a former FBI agent who attended Harvard. In documents given to the city, David Johnson was identified as a former banker who went to Golden Gate University. Prosecutors now say Dahood Bey sometimes tried to pass himself off as Johnson in talks with governments. Dahood Bey was charged with torturing a man in 2010 and eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Court records show he has a history of fraud cases, including possessing dozens of driver’s licenses with fake names, including David Johnson.
Yet in Oakland, where Dahood Bey kept his last name out of bid documents, both the city and its board of port commissioners were on the verge of awarding BMT security contracts earlier this year before scuttling those deals after an investigation by this newspaper showed bid proposals contained false statements.
At the port, where commissioners expressed embarrassment about the revelations, the purchasing department must now “administer all formal procurements” except for specialized engineering matters, according to documents released by a port attorney showing revamped procedures.
Project managers are now charged with ensuring a “consistent and systematic process” to review each bid and check references.
Amey, of the Washington watchdog group, said the port and other agencies simply have to do a better job investigating companies seeking public contracts. “This is one of those things where there just really isn’t an excuse regardless of the level of government involved.”
Staff writer Matt O’Brien contributed to this report. Follow Thomas Peele on Twitter @thomas_peele.