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Nessel: No wrongdoing involved in canceled state contact-tracing contract

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

A now-canceled state contract for COVID-19 contact tracing was the result of a rushed, imperfect process, but there’s absolutely no evidence it involved anything criminal, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has found.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer canceled the contact-tracing contract with Every Action VAN soon after it was signed in April, saying it didn’t go through the proper procurement process.  That was after some state Republicans alleged the contract was awarded based on the company’s political connections to Whitmer and other Democrats.

The Attorney General’s office launched an investigation after a request from Republican State Senator Jim Runestad, who alleged the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services unlawfully directed it to an “alleged political ally,” though “he did not provide the department with any information, documents or other evidence to further the investigation,” according to a statement from Nessel.

Investigators subsequently interviewed the various players, combed through documents and emails, and found no evidence that anyone knowingly violated state procurement rules, or did anything that could warrant criminal charges.

Their final reportfound that although the contract was awarded without a competitive bidding process, that was justified by exceptions in state law that allow the usual process to be bypassed in urgent circumstances. And while the review did find one seeming violation of state procurement rules—a failure to get approval from the State Emergency Operations Center—there was no evidence that the individuals involved had any knowledge of that requirement.

The investigation found no evidence to support the conclusion that “anything nefarious was discussed or contemplated,” that “no favors were discussed or contemplated,” or even to support that Whitmer was closely involved in the execution of the contract. Furthermore, “there is no evidence to support proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or even the lower burden of probable cause, that there was any misfeasance or nonfeasance on behalf of any of the individuals involved in the selection, negotiation or execution of the…contract,” according to the report.

Nessel said she appreciated Runestad’s concerns, but also appreciated “the reality under which this contract was pursued.”

“With the benefit of hindsight, there may have been a better way to accomplish the Department’s ultimate purpose, but we found no evidence of criminality,” Nessel said in a statement. “Instead, it appears the imperfect process used here was mainly a result of the Department’s attempt to get a contact-tracing program underway as quickly as possible in light of the dire public health crisis.” 

The report notes that after Whitmer canceled the Every Action VAN contract, the state ultimately awarded a contact-tracing contract was ultimately awarded to Rock/Deloitte, which cost “considerably more than the GLCE/Every Action VAN contract.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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