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Brockton

Official quits after state report

School facilities chief accused in contract bid probe

Brockton’s school facilities director has resigned following a two-year state investigation that accuses him of violating procurement and ethics laws by allegedly funneling more than $1.3 million in construction contracts to friends and business associates.

Interim School Superintendent John Jerome said he has accepted the resignation of George Bezreh, who had led the school facilities department since 2001. It was not clear whether Bezreh, a Mansfield resident, will face any criminal charges.

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A spokesman for the state attorney general’s office and a spokeswoman for the state Ethics Commission both said last week they could neither confirm nor deny that any action was taking place against Bezreh.

Bezreh could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Judy Levenson, did not return a call for comment.

Jerome said reforms to the school district’s procurement process have been in place since 2010, when the district was first made aware of a probe by the state inspector general.

“We have increased interdepartmental communications with respect to facilities, operations, technology, procurement, and accounts payable” said Jerome. “And our outside counsels review all requests for proposals for proper wording and compliance with Massachusetts General Laws.’’

He said an office manager now oversees purchase orders, line-item budgets, and vendor contracts. Also, a night supervisor reviews contractor work conducted in the evenings to ensure all work is being performed, he said.

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In a report released last month, Glenn A. Cunha, the state inspector general, said his office began its investigation after receiving a tip from a concerned citizen about the Brockton school district’s electrical maintenance contract, which was awarded to Northern Lights Electric Co. Inc. in 2007. The whistle-blower said the contractor’s invoices did not include documentation showing the hours of work performed, materials purchased, and certified payrolls, as the contract required. The person said the bills were submitted in even amounts and many of them were too high for the work performed, according to Cunha’s report.

Cunha said Bezreh had an outside relationship with Joseph Mahoney, an owner of Northern Lights. He said Bezreh and Mahoney’s wife, Sonya Mahoney, were listed with the state secretary of state’s office as signatories in a company called Impressive Remodeling Specialists LLC.

Bezreh is accused of deviating from state procurement laws for design and construction work on the Brockton schools’ electrical contract, as well as on two other major projects.

According to Cunha, Bezreh also awarded two no-bid contracts to Zander Corp., each worth nearly $500,000, for roof repairs at the Kennedy and Gilmore schools. The company, according to the report, had recently hired Bezreh, an electrician, to perform private work.

Emergency repairs were ordered at the time at both the Kennedy and Gilmore after snow accumulation left many in fear that their roofs would collapse, said School Committee vice chairman Thomas Minichiello.

Complicating the question of liability, Minichiello said, is that funds for the repairs came from Liberty Mutual, the school district’s insurer, which paid the city, which in turn paid the contractor.

In another matter, Cunha said Bezreh hired Al Fortes, the owner of Custom Cabinets by Al Fortes, to build and install cabinets and countertops for the school district. But in at least two of those instances, the inspector general said in the report, the work was awarded in violation of bidding rules; project costs were split into multiple invoices to keep payments under the $5,000 threshold; and Bezreh then hired the contractor to build a vanity for his own home.

In the latter case, according to the report, Fortes told state investigators Bezreh insisted he rewrite the invoice to say the vanity was built for his private business office.

Minichiello said if Bezreh had not resigned he would most likely have been fired.

“Obviously the report was disturbing to many people,’’ he said. “It came as a surprise because the job was being done. We are glad now this is behind us.”

Minichiello said school officials will carefully consider next steps, including hiring a replacement for Bezreh. Meanwhile, current staff members are handling day-to-day tasks.

“When we do make a decision, it will be open and transparent,’’ said Minichiello.

As for the changes now in place in the district to check potential future abuses, Minichiello said he was skeptical.

“You can put in all the reforms that you want, but there are ingenious people out there,” he said. “Honesty is paramount.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com.

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