IT firm, ex-CEO banned from doing business with Detroit after bribery case

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
City of Detroit

Detroit — An information technology consulting firm and an ex-CEO who paid bribes to a former city department head are banned from doing business with the city of Detroit. 

Detroit's Office of Inspector General is excluding the information technology firm Computech Corp. from doing business with the city for a decade and its former CEO Ram Kancharla from entering into city agreements for 20 years, according to a newly published report. 

The report notes the city's debarment ordinance is reserved for city contractors "who have been found to have engaged in improper, unethical or illegal conduct."

The concerns stemmed from a complaint filed in 2016 after Detroit's former information technology head Charles Dodd of Canton Township pleaded guilty to accepting $29,500 in bribes from two information technology companies that provided services and personnel to the city, one of which was Computech.

Dodd, who had worked for the city since December 2007, resigned in September 2016.

"When we became aware of the allegations against Mr. Dodd and Computech, we immediately made a decision to no longer do business with that company," Boysie Jackson, director of the city's Office of Contracting and Procurement said in a statement provided to The News on Tuesday. "We are gratified that the OIG has taken the formal step to debar Computech and hope that this sends a strong message to all vendors that this type of behavior will not be tolerated."

Computech attorney George Donnini said Tuesday that the company is "certainly disappointed" with the decision. The incident took place in 2009, he noted, arguing that the company "is presently responsible and has been for some time."

"The company ought to be evaluated on what it is in 2019; a fantastic company that does great work for its clients," Donnini said. "Computech could do great work for the city of Detroit as it has in the past. Now, because of this decision it will be unable to do so until 2026."

According to the inspector general report, Dodd admitted to soliciting and accepting cash payments totaling more than $8,000 from Ram Kancharla, former CEO of Computech, a firm that provided information technology services and personnel to the city. The bribery took place in 2009, according to the report. 

Dodd also admitted that between 2009 and 2016, he received more than $15,000 and a trip to North Carolina, among other things, from Parimal Mehta, the former CEO of FutureNet Group. Mehta pleaded guilty to bribery in May 2018.

The inspector general received a formal complaint from the city's Law Department on Sept. 28, 2016, seeking an investigation, noting Dodd had entered into a plea agreement with the federal government on bribery charges. 

The investigation was placed on hold amid the ongoing criminal investigation. The file was reopened after Dodd was sentenced last fall to 20 months in federal prison.

At that time, the office sent Kancharla and Computech a letter, informing them that the office was proposing they be debarred for the maximum allowable period of 20 years. 

Computech and Kancharla were offered an opportunity for an administrative hearing in November.

That month, Kancharla's attorney sent a letter to the OIG declining the offer.

But the attorney requested the office consider that the actions that led to the conviction had occurred more than eight years ago, that Kancharla voluntarily surrendered all positions of authority with the company once his cooperation with the government was completed, and his family has done many positive things for the city and its residents.

A message left at a number listed for Kancharla was not immediately returned. 

Kancharla pleaded guilty in 2017 to tampering with documents sought under a federal grand jury subpoena from 2010. Kancharla admitted he asked an employee to alter certain documents in response to a subpoena request related to the bribery of Dodd. 

The bribery allegations were not isolated, the report notes. Prior to the case involving Dodd, Kancharla engaged in bribery involving Atlanta Public Schools. That also resulted in guilty pleas.

"The OIG's initial findings regarding Computech not being a responsible contractor was based on Ram Kancharla's and Computech's conduct, through Ram Kancharla, in both Atlanta and Detroit," the report notes.

In March, Computech's current CEO, Gregory Cheesewright, took part in an administrative hearing. The company, the report notes, "was fully cooperative" with the investigation. 

The inspector general's report applauded Computech's effort to strengthen its corporate policies and leadership changes. But wrote that the company has had few leadership changes and "has not done enough to fully alleviate our concerns about their ability to act as responsible contractors."

Kancharla resigned from his management positions with the company in 2017 and divested his ownership interest in the company. Still, shares held by his wife and children remain unchanged, the report says.

Kancharla also spent time working as an independent contractor for the firm after his resignation.

The city held multiple contracts with Computech. Most recently, the city entered into an agreement for information technology services in Oct. 1, 2014. The contract, not to exceed $3.7 million, terminated Sept. 20, 2016. 

The company's deadline to file an appeal was June 4, the inspector general's office said.