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 user 2010-05-17 at 1:28:30 pm Views: 40
  • #24013

    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.

    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

    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.