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 user 2010-05-17 at 1:27:44 pm Views: 50
  • #24076
    TAMPA – Hillsborough County may join a chorus of local governments  across the state and nation alleging that retail giant Office Depot has been overcharging for supplies.In a report released Friday, county auditor Jim Barnes said a preliminary review of the county’s purchases from Office Depot shows that the county may have been overcharged by as much as $1 million since February 2007. That includes $200,000 from July to December 2008.Like many local governments in Florida, Hillsborough doesn’t have a contract with Office Depot but piggybacks on one the state has with the Boca Raton-based company.Figures provided in the report indicate that from February 2007 through December, the county spent about $4 million on office supply purchases from the company.

    Alternative vendors
    In a memo to county commissioners, Barnes wrote that it would be in the county’s “best interest” to seek alternative vendors while conducting a “detailed and more comprehensive” audit of the county’s purchases from Office Depot.”Once this audit is completed, actions should be initiated to seek a full refund from Office Deport for any overcharges and the cost of the audit,” Barnes wrote.In March 2009, County Clerk Pat Frank’s office conducted an audit of Office Depot purchases during the period from July through December 2008 and concluded that “with few exceptions of both higher and lower discrepancies, overall in accordance with the prices established by the State of Florida’s contract.”

    In a statement, Office Depot said Barnes’s report “contains material errors and fails to maintain the objectivity and fairness required of such reports” and said the company’s review of the period in question shows the county actually was undercharged $4,246.”We find it objectionable that an auditor would provide this information to the media and other third-parties, including a former Office Depot employee, without first providing us an opportunity to review and comment,” the company said in the statement.That employee is David Sherwin, who managed contracts for the retailer for more than a decade before he became a whistleblower about the company’s pricing practices.”He is a disgruntled former employee bent on promulgating false and misleading information about Office Depot,” the company said.In recent years, multiple contracts between the retailer and state and local governments have come under scrutiny. Attorneys general in six states – Florida, Colorado, Missouri, California, Ohio and Texas – are investigating the company’s pricing practices.

    A closer look in Florida
    Several counties and public school districts in Florida and elsewhere have done audits of their office supply contracts, some of them after finding discrepancies in their charges. In January, Naples received a $12,000 refund from Office Depot.

    More recently, Clearwater decided to seek a $166,000 refund for overbilling.
    Tampa is conducting an audit to determine whether the city has been overcharged, but officials said recently that a preliminary review of its purchases didn’t find any discrepancies.Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, who requested the Office Depot audit, said he agrees with Barnes’s recommendation and wants the county to conduct a comprehensive audit.White said Barnes’s review of the county’s purchases, which was requested several months ago, had been delayed because Office Depot had not been cooperative.”Office Depot has not been willing to cooperate with us, so we’ve had to go to other municipalities to get the information that we need to conduct an audit,” he said.