State slammed for failing to vet supplier with KKK past

16 April 2021

An investigation has found a US contractor with prior connections to the Ku Klux Klan might have exaggerated the technical capacity of his company in order to win a major state law enforcement IT contract.

A state audit of high-tech surveillance startup Banjo criticised Utah state procurement for not checking whether the firm was capable of delivering on its promises.

It also slammed the state for failing to conduct background checks that might have revealed the contractor’s past connections to white supremacist groups.

Last May Utah abruptly dropped the contract with Banjo when it emerged its founder and CEO Damien Patton had links to a KKK offshoot group as a youth.

The investigation by state auditor John Dougall found Banjo was never capable of delivering on its contract, which was worth $21m.

Even when the contract was suspended the state had already paid Banjo $3m.

Banjo was contracted to install and run a software platform that was said to be able to provide critical real-time information by constantly gathering and processing data from multiple sources.

These included video surveillance cameras, 911 call centres, emergency vehicle data and social media content.

But when auditors attempted to put the software to the test they found the system was not able to meet its claims that it could save vital police time in helping solve crimes.

Auditors admitted the results may have been affected by the fact that Banjo technicians were no longer administering the software but they believed that despite this, it was not capable of delivering on the company’s promises.

It also found the company had inappropriate access to databases with sensitive information.

Dougall said in his audit that background checks should be conducted on the people who run businesses that win major public contracts.

“The lack of a rigorous background check process is heightened when one has the potential to access sensitive PII [personally-identifiable information] as well as the capability to steer law enforcement investigatory resources,” the audit said.

Dougalls’s office issued guidance in February suggesting state procurement vets future “key vendor personnel”, particularly those involved in key IT contracts.

Patton was not subject to any type of background check as this was not required under state procurement rules.

Attorney general Sean Reyes said even if a background check had been carried out it would not have discovered Patton’s past, as the information was contained in sealed records.

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