A top member of the Stroger Administration helped dole out millions of dollars in federal Department of Homeland Security grants, including to a company that he had a relationship with, a federal lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit charges IBM also had an oversight role but allowed an unqualified company to garner a coveted county contract.
Part of Dudley Donelson's job is to help manage a nearly $45 million Homeland Security program called Project Shield. Donelson is a Deputy Director in the office that oversees technology for Cook County, including Project Shield.
"Key decisions were made by county officials and IBM that were not driven by the goal of success for this project. But by a goal to funnel business to an unqualified company with ties to Cook County officials," said plaintiff’s attorney Paul Vickery.
Project Shield was born out of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Federal grant money started pouring into Illinois to outfit suburban police cars with state of the art cameras to feed live video back to a central command in times of an emergency. First responders would have eyes of the ground.
In 2004 Donelson wrote his office "is poised to make a recommendation to the Cook County Board of Commissioners for a prime contractor" to oversee millions in federal Homeland Security grants.
The prime contractor chosen: IBM.
Now in a federal lawsuit businessman Michael McGee claims decisions were made that put both taxpayers -- and first responders -- at risk.
Project Shield was to be completed in three phases.
From the start there were problems.
"They were plagued with hardware, software problems," McGee said. "They were just a disaster."
McGee’s company -- Responder Systems -- was hired to make repairs in Phase 1.
McGee, who has letters of recommendation from police departments where the work was successfully completed, said IBM promised his company would get the $3.3 million contract for Phase 2.
That never happened.
The contract went to Public Safety Communications or PSC.
According to McGee and the lawsuit, PSC lacked the technical expertise to do the job. But in the company’s corner was Dudley Donelson.
PSC shared an office in a South Holland complex with a company called IT Suite, according to both phone records and building management.
According to state records, the president of IT Suite was Dudley Donelson.
Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica said Donelson exercised enormous control over contracts.
"The minority participation was controlled, still is, by a county employee Dudley Donelson," Peraica said. That was despite the fact "he had business interests that he was sending county contracts to while a county employee."
And the lawsuit claims, IBM knew all about it.
"IBM knew that municipalities were upset because whatever had been installed by PSC was not working," Vickery said.
Project Shield is now in Phase 3 and not yet complete. The FBI has, according to sources, opened an investigation.
As for McGee, he says the loss of the county contract was huge for his business.
"It was devastating, to myself, my employees, devastating," McGee said.
Still, both McGee and Vickery said there is a larger issue and it involves homeland security.
"This was an ideal opportunity to enhance the safety of Cook County residents," Vickery said. "And that didn’t happen."
"These federal grants are a gift from God," McGee said. "And this is at some level playing Russian roulette with officers’ safety."
IBM declined an interview but said by phone: "IBM will aggressively defend our position in this matter. Beyond that we have no comment."
In a court filing, the company denied it did anything improper or illegal in regards to Project Shield.
IBM is no longer involved in Project Shield.
PSC is out of business. Reached by phone, Clarence Brownlow, the company’s former president declined to comment.
Likewise, Dudley Donelson declined to comment.