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State inspector: lax policies enabled DOT engineer to get personal benefit from contractor

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The state inspector general has found that lax policies at the state Department of Transportation allowed a DOT engineer in Jefferson County to have his driveway paved in 2004 for possibly half the amount it should have cost by using one of the department’s contractors.

Acting Inspector General Catherine E. Leahy Scott announced Friday that David R. Dingman, a DOT assistant resident engineer, arranged for Barrett Paving Materials Inc., a New Jersey-based company that does millions of dollars’ worth of construction work for the state and has a regional office in Watertown, to pave his driveway.

According to a statement from the inspector general, Mr. Dingman could have paid from $2,000 to $3,000 for the work, but paid only about $1,500, as Barrett gave him a break on labor costs. The residential paving work was done while Barrett both was under contract with DOT and was working on state paving projects in Jefferson County overseen by Mr. Dingman.

Mr. Dingman, a DOT employee since 1985, does not face any disciplinary action because the incident took place eight years ago and the inspector general did not learn of the allegations until 2010. Instead, the inspector general’s findings have prompted DOT to amend its policies to avoid future occurrences, including instituting an “absolute” ban on hiring current DOT contractors or vendors for personal business, and requiring the DOT commissioner’s approval of requests to hire any individual or business that contracted with DOT within the previous five years.

According to a summary of the inspector general’s findings, Mr. Dingman did inform his immediate supervisor that he was going to hire Barrett to pave his driveway and was given approval to do so. At the time, Barrett was working on a non-state paving project at Watertown International Airport near Dexter and had some idle time for its employees. It agreed to do the work at Mr. Dingman’s house, which was near the airport. No DOT employees worked on the private paving project, and Mr. Dingman took an authorized day off to supervise the work.

Before the incident, Mr. Dingman sent his supervisor a letter saying he had hired Barrett and offering to provide any receipts for the work upon request. The boss, who now is retired, approved the work without contacting any superior officials. As it previously was written, DOT policy did not require employees in such situations to provide any particular information to supervisors, nor did it outline what reviews or other actions should be taken by supervisors.

Mr. Dingman told the inspector general that he never asked Barrett for a break on the price, although he acknowledged that a reduction in the cost could be perceived as a gift meant to influence him in his official duties or a potential conflict of interest. He denied that he ever provided favors to any contractor working on state projects.

The inspector general’s findings will be provided to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics for review.

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