Emails show LA commissioner used influence to win $3 million COVID-19 contract, union claims – Daily News – Community News
Covid-19

Emails show LA commissioner used influence to win $3 million COVID-19 contract, union claims – Daily News

A controversial Los Angeles Fire and Police Commissioner charged with ethical violations by a law enforcement union over a $3 million contract to test unvaccinated city workers for COVID-19 began lobbying Mayor Eric’s office nearly a year ago. Garcetti on behalf of his company, and raised questions from critics about potential influence, according to emails obtained by the Southern California News Group.

The Los Angeles Police Protection League is suing the city and demanding an investigation for failing to disclose that test contractor PPS Health Inc., which conducts business as Bluestone Safe, is partially owned by Dr. Pedram Salimpour, who was reappointed to the 2017 pension committee by Garcetti.

“Did Commissioner Salimpour mislead his commissioner colleagues and the professional staff about how involved he was and how much he could gain from this taxpayer-funded contract? asked Tom Saggau, a union spokesman. “We all deserve answers.”

The union lawsuit seeks to prevent the city from requiring unvaccinated workers to pay for COVID-19 testing through payroll deductions at a cost of $65 per test. A hearing is scheduled for December 8.

Bluestone among 7 vetted companies

The Los Angeles human resources department said it vetted seven suppliers with vaccine and test-tracking services before awarding the no-bid, emergency contract to Bluestone to test city employees. With the exception of Bluestone, the other suppliers were not identified.

Bluestone was the only company to offer a variety of services at a competitive rate, including vaccine card verification, daily symptom checking, a PCR saliva test, vaccine exemption submission and tracking, and health counseling, Bruce Whidden. A spokesperson for the Human Resources department reported this in an email.

“Bluestone Safe’s services have a proven record of success with other regional governments, including Los Angeles County and several Native American tribes,” he added.

Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions, which manages more than $30 billion in assets and administers retirement and health benefits for nearly 27,000 current and retired public safety officers and their beneficiaries, said last month that Salimpour “was not involved in and was not part of the review and vetting process” for the Bluestone contract.

That unlikely statement raises questions about whether Salimpour may have manipulated the pension committee, Saggau said.

“The public deserves to know why the pensions committee has issued an official statement downplaying Bluestone’s ownership and management control by Commissioner Salimpour, as well as that Salimpour was not involved and played no part in the contract winning process. he added. “Why would a city entity defend an individual’s for-profit actions?”

Bluestone has issued a statement saying it has done nothing wrong. “Bluestone sought and followed legal advice and complied with all applicable ethical laws,” said a company spokesperson. “The allegations made by the Los Angeles Police Protective League are simply false.”

Emails and Influence

The police union has provided the Southern California News Group with emails showing that Salimpour and Bluestone lobbyist Darryl Lucien began courting Garceti’s office in late 2020 for the opportunity to conduct COVID-19 testing.

Lucien praised Bluestone’s services and Salimpour’s credentials with the Los Angeles County Medical Association in a Nov. 23 introductory email to Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell and Amanda Daflos, who was then the Chief Innovation Officer of the city.

“I’m working with a company, PPS Health, which has developed a robust health app that manages the risks of exposure to COVID-19 and also provides telemedicine and COVID testing capabilities,” he said in the email. “It was developed by two prominent Los Angeles physicians, one of whom was previously the president of the Los Angeles County Medical Association.”

The email states that Bluestone will facilitate the creation of safer public spaces in city facilities and reduce exposure to compensation claims from COVID-19 workers through a saliva test that provides highly accurate results within 24 to 36 hours. “We hope to have a conversation with you in the near future,” Lucien said, closing the email.

The next day, Salimpour followed up with another email pitch to Gorell and Daflos.

“As Darryl mentioned, we’ve been involved in large-scale and very large-scale surgery clinical trials in the United States for more than two decades,” Salimpour said. “We’d love to talk to you about how we’re partnering, partnering with, and working for Los Angeles in this endeavour. This is obviously close to my heart because this is where I live and grew up and where all our employees are, so if there is any way we can help it will be incredible to me personally.”

In a December 9 email, Dr. Pejman Salimpour, Pedram Salimpour’s brother and partner at Bluestone, Daflos and Andre Herndon, Garcetti’s deputy communications director, for speaking with him the previous day and giving them a copy of a Bluestone presentation. “We are at your disposal to continue our conversation,” he said.

Lucien then sent a final follow-up email to “Team Garcetti” on January 12, 2021.

“Our company is able to offer this program to city employees at minimal cost because we bill employees’ insurers,” he said. “Depending on contract terms, such as indemnity and administrative requirements, we may have to charge a variable start-up fee. We hope to contribute to reducing the transmission of COVID-19 among the city’s workforce soon. Will you let us know quickly if you are still interested?”

Lucien declined to comment on the emails, and Garcetti’s office referred questions to human resources.

The emails raise serious questions about Salimpour’s efforts to land the Bluestone contract, said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

“The revelations in these emails confirm that Pedram Salimpour, the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pensions Commissioner, has used his considerable political clout to personally engage in an aggressive lobbying campaign targeting the highest echelons of the Office of the Attorney General’s Office. Mayor Garcetti to successfully secure a lucrative, no-bid contract for his COVID-19 testing company, Bluestone,” he said.

“The public deserves to know who pulled the strings to funnel a $3 million no-bid contract to conduct Covid testing to an entity that owns no Covid testing lab, does not manufacture Covid testing kits and has virtually no experience managing pandemic-related massive public health efforts. Who else has been involved in city government other than the mayor’s office, who else has lobbied to award this contract to the newly formed Bluestone and his city commissioner-owner?”

Statistics and logistics

The controversy surrounding Salimpour has resulted in at least one COVID-19 testing company signing up.

Newport Beach-based Vivera Pharmaceuticals announced Friday that it will offer free COVID-19 testing to all first responders in Southern California and their families.

“There is no reason to force aid workers to pay for testing to keep their jobs,” Vivera Chief Executive Office Paul Edalat said in a statement. “We are committed to doing our part in this pandemic, and that doesn’t mean we should take advantage of those who serve our communities.”

The city has said it will not accept third-party testing.

According to an internal memo from Deputy Chief Daniel Randolph to Police Chief Michel Moore obtained by the Southern California News Group, at least 3,305 unvaccinated Los Angeles Police Department employees were required to undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week. That means LAPD testing sites must distribute and collect more than 6,600 test kits each week.

Testing by Bluestone was set to begin on Monday, November 15. However, the Los Angeles human resources department said in an email sent to employees Friday that the start date has been postponed. No reason was given for the delay and a new start date was not disclosed.

The delay marks the second postponement of testing, originally scheduled to begin on Nov. 8.

Under the Los Angeles Employee Vaccination Mandate, employees have until December 18 to be vaccinated or apply for a religious or medical waiver. Those who refuse to comply risk being fired, city officials said. Even with that requirement, testing will continue for workers requesting waivers until a ruling is made on those requests, which could take months, police union officials say.