A Minnesota citizen’s group is alleging a former University dean authorized a $12,500 kickback for Minnesota state Sen. Dallas Sams after he sponsored a bill granting the University agriculture department $1 million.
Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, a nonprofit, nonpartisan self-proclaimed legislative watchdog group, published a report scrutinizing contracts drafted by Mike Martin, former agriculture school dean, after the school received the money from the Legislature.
Martin authored two contracts: The first was to directly pay Sams $12,500 for consulting the University’s agriculture department, but was dropped when Martin feared public outcry, according to a report written by the University’s general counsel.
After the original deal fell through, Martin made a contract with technology consulting firm Media Integrated Training Services to create specialized training CD-ROMs for the school of agriculture.
But according the general counsel’s report, MITS paid Sams $12,500 and used the other $1,000 to buy the CD-ROMs. The report also states that neither Tom Powell of MITS nor Sams would confirm the exact amount Sams was paid.
The contract states that MITS was to provide the University with CD-ROM training materials that were consistent with the University’s needs.
However, according to the report, the software that was delivered was not unique to the University and could have been publicly purchased “off the shelf.”
Neither Martin nor Powell could be reached for comment.
Also in question is whether Sams received double payments for the contract and for his role as co-chair on the Minnesota Agriculture Education Leadership Council, which was created in the same legislation that afforded the University the $1 million.
“We conclude that Sams performed work for both the University and the council, and that separate payment for the two types of work was not improper,” the report states.
The report defines work for the University as his contract with MITS — and thus lawful.
Sams denies any wrongdoing and stands by what the general counsel’s office published.
“It was a contract between me and MITS for working with them on a CD-ROM,” Sams said. “It was a discretionary fund; there were no state funds or tax dollars involved.”
He added that the money he received did not come from the money in the bill he authored.
The report concludes that the payments were legal, but questioned the ambiguous nature of the contracts: first, that the contract did not say that the work performed by Sams was the primary purpose of the contract and, second, that the contract was poorly worded.
University head attorney Mark Rotenberg said the arrangement was not consistent with the way the University does business.
“Contracts should provide clear specifications of products and benchmarks for the work,” he said.
But Andy Kirn, spokesman for Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, says the money Sams received came directly from the University through the Legislature’s appropriated money.
“They paid him through a third-party contract,” Kirn said, “to conceal a benefit to Sams.”
He added that there is no evidence that Sams did any consulting work for the University.
“The only thing Sams did was pass the bill and give it to the University,” Kirn said.
The group is pressing for Sams to repay the $12,500.
Rotenberg said the Board of Regents passed a resolution in September that requires the general counsel’s office to review all contracts made by employees at the University; Rotenberg said the measure was not implemented because of any perceived impropriety.