A Los Angeles Unified School District regional director of construction pleaded guilty to one count of conflict of interest Dec. 9, nearly a year after he was accused of steering district business to firms that he owned.
Bassam Raslan, who was in charge of new construction at LAUSD, was indicted on April 1 on nine counts of conflicts of interest charges by The Public Integrity Unit of Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley’s office.
Raslan, who owns TBI & Associates, was accused by a grand jury of profiting through his connection with the school district by using his position to award LAUSD construction contracts to his own employees.
LAUSD school board member Steve Zimmer, who represents Mar Vista, Venice, Del Rey Westchester in District 4, was the lone member of the board to vote against awarding Raslan’s company 40 additional contracts that totaled approximately $180 million in February.
Raslan, who initially pleaded not guilty, was given five years probation by Superior Court Judge Craig Veals and ordered to pay $250, 000 to the school district in restitution. Prosecutors dismissed the other eight counts against him upon securing his guilt plea.
The former contractor’s conviction comes after months of debate between union representatives of LAUSD employees and the school board, with the former accusing the latter of hiring private contractors and shutting out district workers.
Connie Oser, the business representative of the Teamsters, which represents architects and construction managers, thought Raslan should have been made to pay a higher fine. “I thought that $250, 000 was minimal,” she said. “He pocketed a lot more than that.”
Oser has insisted for more than two years that LAUSD employees were being pushed aside by the school district in favor of outside contractors.
City Controller Wendy Greuel issued a report Oct. 27 that found that over a four-year period, the school district’s policies and supervision of the selection of private contractors was lacking adequate protocols for preventing conflicts of interests.
Greuel’s audit also found there were more than 225 instances from 2002-06 where a regional director like Raslan sat on a panel which selected a person employed by their employer, creating a potential conflict of interest, according to the review. There were also four instances where someone participating in a hiring panel stood to receive a direct financial benefit because they selected a contractor from a firm in which they had an investment.
Lawrence Kalbers, the director of the center for accounting ethics, governance and the public interest at Loyola Marymount University, said contractors know that it is unethical to direct contracts to their own firms when employed in the public sector.
“A contractor employed by the city is expected to look out for the interests of the city,” Kalbers told The Argonaut. “If a city contractor is an owner of a firm that might do business with the city, the contractor should not be involved in the decision to hire the firm in which he or she is an owner, and should not review and approve the work of that firm if the firm is awarded a contract.”
Zimmer could not be reached for comment. He has consistently declined to comment on Raslan’s case, saying that he would like to wait until a report is issued by the inspector general.
Oser said Zimmer was the only board member to question LAUSD’s process for awarding contracts at a recent board meeting.
“He was the only one to ask, ‘Why do we need to keep (all of the private contractors) and why can’t district employees do some of this work,’” she recalled.
As a condition of his probation, Veals also ordered Raslan to complete 200 hours of community service.