Houston VA worker accused of steering $150,000 contract to friend

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Indictment: Contract awarded to vendor with whom worker had a conflict of interest. DA seeks help finding if other contracts allegedly tainted (KTRK)

An official at the Houston Veterans Administration hospital is accused of steering a $150,000 no-bid contract to a close friend, and the Harris County District Attorney Office is seeking help to find additional allegedly tainted VA contracts.

The deal that prosecutors say Wanda Thomas, 57, of Humble, steered to the "intimate" friend was a food service contract to provide workers on the cafeteria line inside the DeBakey VA Medical Center.

Neither the friend nor the company has been charged, officials said.

Thomas did not comment when approached by ABC-13 this week at the Harris County Criminal Court.

"People have to be trusted to do their job," said George Jordan, a fraud examiner with the District Attorney's Office. "They have to be trusted to follow procedures and that did not happen in this case."

Thomas, a contract specialist for the VA, never posted the contract online to get bids, according to the indictment.

In addition, records show that she did not take the required step of analyzing what such a contract should cost the taxpayer and that she didn't use the government's pre-approved list of vendors.

Indeed, the company didn't even exist when Thomas awarded the contract.

"This business was not created... until the next day," Assistant Harris County District Attorney Tiffany Johnson said.

Johnson said the contract was awarded to "Someone she knew very personally -- intimately."

Records also show that at least $25,228 of the contract was paid before work was ever done, which officials said is against the rules, and the invoice for payment includes the notation, "Please expedite payment."

"She was trusted and violated that trust," Johnson said.

Houston VA officials declined comment on the agency's oversight in awarding contracts like the ones Thomas awarded, but issued a statement saying the VA was assisting the DA's office in this case.

"The VA expects the highest level of integrity and professionalism from all of our employees," according to the statement. "The Houston VA Medical Center has been working with and actively assisting the VA's Office of Inspector General's investigation in this case. Because this is an ongoing investigation we can't comment beyond that."

The District Attorney also seeks the public's help.Thomas oversaw contracts for years at the VA and, with the investigation still ongoing, the alleged loss of taxpayer dollars could climb.

Anyone who has ever done business with Thomas at the VA winning -- or losing -- a government contract is asked to call officials with the DA at 713-755-8330.
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