US

‘Disadvantaged’ Beverly Hills Fashionista Worked No-Show VA Job, Took Millions From Feds

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Luke Rosiak Investigative Reporter

A fashionista from Beverly Hills, Calif., collected millions in interior design contracts from federal agencies by claiming to be “disadvantaged,” while simultaneously working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) sending work to design companies.

Ronda C. Jackson was a no-show at her VA job, colleagues said. Records show she instead spent her time running a design company that got $7 million in contracts from the VA and other government agencies since 2008, reselling them marked-up goods like five-seat tables for $17,000.

Since 1997, Jackson has run Décor Interior Design, which seeks preference on government contracts by claiming to be disadvantaged because she is black, a woman and based out of a supposedly downtrodden “Historically Underutilized Business Zone” (HUBZone). The reduced-competition contracting program is known as 8(a).

Jackson worked as a full-time federal employee at the Los Angeles VA center in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, which ran from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2011. Pay records show she worked as a GS-12 level interior designer and made $80,000 each year. Colleagues said they never saw Jackson in the office.

Management looked the other way when told she was habitually absent and had forwarded her phone to the business she was managing.

In fiscal years 2008 through 2010, the company had $222,000 in contracts with the VA, federal records show. The last contract was signed with the Los Angeles VA November, 2009, with work listed as being completed Sept. 30, 2010, meaning she was being paid as a full-time employee for almost a whole year while also working on a contract for the same agency and at the same hospital and for the same type of work. Her job as an employee was to buy furniture for the VA, and her job as a contractor included selling it.

A typical contract to her company was $76,000 for “sign maintenance review and consultation services” at a Los Angeles-area VA hospital, paid without weighing offers from any other companies. The contract ran through Sept. 30, 2009. During the time she was apparently on the VA payroll, Jackson’s company was also signing contracts with other agencies, including the Army, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Air Force.

Emails obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation show that Robert Benkeser, a high-level manager in charge of facilities, was told that Jackson appeared to have a no-show employment arrangement, but did nothing.

Benkeser is the same manager who was in charge of an official vehicle fleet from which 30 of 88 cars disappeared. He fired the employee who exposed the missing cars as well as the fact that government credit cards from the same unit appeared to have been used fraudulently. Benkeser received only “counseling” for the misconduct, and there is no indication he received any disciplinary action for the retaliation.

“Mr. Benkeser, it has come to my attention that there is a potential resource abuse situation occurring within FMS service. Ronda Jackson, the new interior designer, has not appeared here on campus the entire week and nor have I been able to contact her for the last several weeks,” VA engineer Ken Rippetoe emailed in December, 2010.

“The staff that work in her office just say that ‘we don’t know, we haven’t seen her’ and have told me that they are afraid of reporting it to Mr. Lemle or you because they don’t want to jeopardize their jobs … The staff have stated that she has no leave and she doesn’t call in.

“She doesn’t answer email and she has her phone forwarded to her company line. lt is known that her company is still operating while she is working here in the same capacity as an interior designer. I have heard that the VA has received invoices from vendors with her company name on them.”

Dr. Jennifer Chen, chief of the Los Angeles hospital’s emergency department, wrote in another email: “Ronda Jackson has not been responding to phone calls.” 

Decor Interior Design was paid $2.6 million by the General Services Administration, with the first contract signed in October, 2010 — in the middle of her VA employment — and the latest signed last month. It was paid $2 million by the Department of Defense starting in September, 2010. Just before Jackson joined the VA, the company signed on to a new contract with the Department of Transportation, and after she left, it has received $1.7 million from the National Archives.

The company specializes in selling high-priced luxuries to government agencies, seemingly at a large markup. A 2009 contract, in which records from USASpending.gov classify the company as HUBZone while listing its Beverly Hills address, says she was paid $72,000 for outfitting the Federal Aviation Administration with “framed artwork for CMEL guest room and main building [and] conference rooms.” The company subsequently moved to Los Angeles.

Jackson charged $70,000 for an unspecified “21 [inch] freestanding unit” and $17,000 for a five-person outdoor table.

Ninety-eight percent of the nearly $7 million in contracting dollars awarded to Jackson’s company came without the government weighing her offer against those of other companies.

The press office of the regional headquarters of the VA refused to say why it would allow a federal employee to run a government contracting company that directly conflicted with her duties, or say if she was fired for not showing up. It also would not provide the exact dates of her employment.

Jackson’s case underscores questions about VA’s army of 167 full-time interior designers. Nearly every VA hospital in the country has one or more.

Despite drawing two simultaneous government checks, American Express filed a $3,800 lien against Jackson in April, 2011, records show. Jackson ignored multiple requests for comment by phone and email.

On her LinkedIn profile, Jackson admits to double-dipping by working on her own company during hours she was getting paid by someone else. “Ronda formed Décor Interior Design at the desk of her day job in 1997 as a sole proprietor, and incorporated in 2006,” according to the profile, which also described her as a “charismatic and dynamic entrepreneur.”

In an essay in the Huffington Post, Jackson said, “the journey is rocky, reckless and only until recent [sic], rewarding. After 15 years in business, I was awarded my first seven ­figure contract from the federal government in 2012.

“Federal contracting is inundated with what seems to be redundant paperwork,” she said. “Not only did I get help with government contracting, I was also able to acquire several socio­economic certifications, including the 8(a). There is a new commodity in my company’s portfolio … the SBA. This is the part of the day where I close my eyes and picture everything I want for my business; our new office, multi­millions [sic] dollar contracts, and family vacations.”

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