Manager Worried Whether No-Bid Contract Was Proper - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Friends in High Places

Manager Worried Whether No-Bid Contract Was Proper

(Story created: 5/20/04)

The first manager of a company that got a questionable state contract says he feared its owners had cashed in on their friends in high places. That was the testimony that began day three of the fraud trial of Sundquist appointee Joanna Ediger.

Mark Burrows was the first employee of Workforce Strategists.

That was a Chattanooga company that he and other witnesses testified essentially did not exist until it got a big state contract in 1999 to provide intensive counseling for the unemployed.

But Burrows says he became suspicious of Joanna Ediger, the former Labor Department official who helped secure the contract during the administration of former Gov. Don Sundquist.

He was especially suspicious after the company's owner, Sundquist friend John Stamps, ordered him in February 2000 to pay Ediger $10,000.

"Once it started dawning on me who Joanna Ediger was," Burrows testified, "it started eating at my gut. I just wanted to ask if anything unethical had been done."

Ediger's lawyers say the money was for consulting work she did after she left state government.

But prosecutors presented evidence that Ediger drafted a critical memo that claimed Workforce Strategists was "the only company in Tennessee" that had experience for the contract -- in state terms, a "sole source."

Burrows testified: "I specifically remember Joanna saying this sole source agreement ... was erroneous."

Her attorney later countered, "She just came up to you and told you, 'I did wrong?'"

To which Burrows replied, "We had conversations, yes."

In fact, Burrows testified he tried three times to question Stamps about the propriety of the deal.

The last time, "Mr. Stamps was very short. He said, 'If you ever bring up the subject again, I will fire you,' and that was pretty much verbatim."

The day ended with surprise testimony from a former Workforce Strategists employee.

She says the company not only hired her and a coworker. They were also enrolled in its program for the unemployed, which brought the company even more of your tax dollars.

Prosecutors have told jurors they'll hear about Ediger's involvement in a proposed $10 million dollar state contract, that would put $1 million dollars in Stamps' pocket.

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