A strained Los Angeles retirement commissioner, who has denied allegations that he wrongfully lobbied city officials to approve a $ 3 million COVID-19 test contract for his firm, sent his proposal directly to city administrative officer Matt Szabo, who signed no. offer contract in September.
Dr. Pedram Salimpour, a member of the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions Board since 2013, has repeatedly claimed that he was not involved in the review or review process of the test contract awarded to PPS Health Inc., which operates the Bluestone Safe business. However, more than a dozen emails received by the Southern California News Group paint a different picture of Salimpour’s efforts to win the contract for Bluestone.
Emails from March 2020 to November 2021 show that Salimpour requested a face-to-face meeting with Szabo, who offered to put him in touch with officials in the Los Angeles Personnel Department, the city agency tasked with selecting a supplier to COVID-19 test contract.
The email exchanges between Salimpour and Szabo depict a worrying pattern of influence, allegedly, Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, who has previously complained about Salimpour’s efforts to lobby Mayor Eric Garcetti on behalf of his firm.
“These emails confirm our worst suspicion that the city rolled the red carpet next to Retirement Commissioner Pedram Salimpour’s Bluestone test start-up, and the city gave him an advantage over much more experienced COVID-19 test providers,” Lally said in a declaration. “Despite his and the city’s denials, Salimpour was not only involved in the procurement process, he was on his knees in it.”
Salimpour denies these allegations. “The allegations from the Los Angeles Police Protective League are simply false,” a Bluestone spokesman said. “Dr. Pedram Salimpour adhered to all ethical rules.”
In addition, officials from Garcetti’s office and the city’s human resources department said there was no favoritism in choosing Bluestone.
“This contract was awarded transparently and in accordance with the normal procedure,” said Garcetti’s press secretary, Harrison Wollman. “Seven vendors were surveyed to meet the needs outlined in the (city) council decision, and Bluestone was selected based on an objective set of criteria. No vendor was treated differently than anyone else during the process.”
Bruce Whidden, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Human Resources Department, reiterated those comments. “No one from the human resources department had any contact with Commissioner Pedram Salimpour during the selection process that resulted in the contract with Bluestone,” he said.
Szabo did not respond to a request for comment.
Police unions require investigation
The Los Angeles Police Protective League is suing the city, demanding an investigation, claiming it has not revealed that Salimpour owns part of Bluestone with his brother, Dr. Pejman Salimpour.
The lawsuit seeks to block the city from continuing to use Bluestone for mandate twice a week of COVID-19 testing of unvaccinated employees that began Nov. 18. It also requests reimbursement to workers who are required to pay $ 65 per year. test through payroll deduction. Separately, the union has filed a complaint against Salimpour with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
Monitoring the sellers
The Los Angeles Personnel Department said it investigated seven vendors with vaccine and test tracking services before awarding the emergency contract without bids to Bluestone. With the exception of Bluestone, the other vendors were not identified.
Bluestone was the only company to offer a range of services at a competitive price, including vaccine card verification, daily symptom monitoring, a PCR saliva test, submission and tracking of vaccine exemptions and health care advice, according to the human resources department.
Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions, which manages more than $ 30 billion in assets and manages pensions and health care for nearly 27,000 current and retired public security staff and their beneficiaries, has backed Salimpour’s claim that he had no influence on the contract selection process.
Salimpour sent a couple of emails on May 6 to Szabo praising him profusely for his nomination of Garcetti for the post of CEO.
“You are so young for all this success !!!,” he wrote. “You should be very, very proud. Take a moment and enjoy it. I know you live in LA, so maybe you’re used to this. But this is bigger than most countries, certainly bigger than most companies in the world. This is a huge deal !!! You have obviously been robbed. Now take a moment and celebrate !!! “
A shower of messages
There was also a barrage of communications between Salimpour and Szabo on the evening of August 5, hours after Los Angeles City Hall had closed for the day.
“I would love to chat with you and take you through everything we do and how we do it if you have a few minutes,” Salimpour wrote to Szabo, who as CAO controls the budget strings for the city of Los Angeles.
Szabo responded less than an hour later. “Pedram I would like to set aside time, tomorrow if possible, so that we can talk to the point of the personnel department for wax data collection,” he replied in an email.
The next day, Salimpour sent an email to Szabo confirming that he had been in contact with Grayce Liu, an assistant director general in the human resources department. “Can’t thank you enough,” he wrote. “Thanks again for everything, as always.”
Salimpour gave Szabo a status report on August 18 regarding Bluestone’s discussions with the city and made a final pitch for the company.
“I think we’re good at pricing – we’ve made the necessary concessions to bring us in line (or below) all the competition,” he wrote in an email. “We are a local business and would love to be a part of the solution for the city.”
Emails reinforce the union’s belief that Salimpour, despite its denials, was heavily involved in securing the COVID-19 test contract for Bluestone, but leaves many questions unanswered, Lally said.
“His running, trading, and dirt paved the way for securing a $ 3M taxpayer-funded test contract with no bids, even though Bluestone does not own a COVID test lab and does not produce the test kits,” Lally said. “We have serious concerns about why the $ 30 billion director general of the Fire and Police Pension Fund would deny Commissioner Salimpour’s involvement in what appears to be a backroom deal, and that raises the question of what else might be hidden or covered – up about this shady deal. “