Questions surround Dallas County purchase of satellite equipment

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on August 4, 2011 at 11:15 PM

Updated Thursday, Aug 4 at 11:34 PM

DALLAS - Emergency satellite communications equipment designed to help protect Dallas County citizens and paid for with taxpayer money is at the center of a growing mystery.

News 8 has learned the Dallas County Health & Human Services department may have overpaid for the purchase and maintenance of the equipment by hundreds of thousands of dollars. Once again, the information WFAA uncovered has ties to the ongoing FBI investigation of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price.

In question is a half-million-dollar contract between Dallas County Health & Human Services and a company called Wai Wize. The department purchased three mobile SATCOM units in 2005 to be used in case of emergencies.

The company providing the units, one rooftop receiver and monthly service was a company called Wai Wize. Wai Wize's principal partner is Willis Johnson, a well known political consultant, former disc jockey and close friend of Price.

According to county records, the health department used $152,000 in federal grants to purchase the equipment, and an additional $288,000 to maintain it. Records show the department paid between $4,000, $6,000 and sometimes $7,000 a month to test and maintain the mobile satellite equipment.

While those prices did nothing to raise suspicions of the Dallas County commissioners voting over the past six years to renew the contract with Wai Wize, the prices set off an alarm for one man.

"There was something that just kind of raised my antennae and trying trying to figure out why such an exorbitant cost on that," said Mike Rambo, owner of Satellite and Wireless Solutions of Royce City. 

Rambo not only knows what satellite systems cost, he said he sold that same particular system to Wai Wize, which then sold it to Dallas County. 

"I was involved originally in the transaction with Wai Wize when I was at SkyPort as director of sales down there," he said. "I actually sold those trailers to them."

And Rambo knows exactly what those trailers, fully equipped, sold for. He showed News 8 documentation reflecting the suggested price for each mobile unit to be just over $12,000.

He said the actual sales price was $28,304 for all three, plus about $8,000 for a fixed unit that sits on top of the Health and Human Services building. That's $36,000 worth of equipment, which it appears Wai Wize then turned around and billed Dallas County $152,000.

Also, there's the monthly maintenance fee costing the county between $4,000 and $6,000. According to Rambo, that makes little sense. 

"There is no major maintenance, calibration or anything to be done to these units other than taking care of the trailer," Rambo said.

He said the units need to be tested each month. That, plus the purchase of satellite time, should have cost the county no more than $700 per month, he said.

WFAA's attempts to reach Johnson, Wai Wize's CEO, were unsuccessful.

"I don't have time for this," said Duke Hamilton, the chief operating officer said by  phone. "You guys are trying to assassinate our business."

New 8 already reported on attempts by former Dallas County Judge Jim Foster to get answers about the equipment sold to the county by Wai Wize.

"And the more questions I had the less information was provided to me," said Foster in an earlier interview.

This week, County Commissioner Maureen Dickey said she too was given only vague responses to her questions about the satellite system sold to the county by Wai Wize.

"I was stonewalled," she said. "I couldn't get an answer to my questions."

For two weeks, Dallas County health director Zachary Thompson stopped answering all of WFAA's questions, including new questions about how much the SATCOM equipment sold by Wai Wize actually cost.

As WFAA previously reported, Wai Wize and its CEO are identified in federal search warrant as being connected to Price. WFAA spoke with Johnson in recent days and he has confirmed he was contacted by the FBI in connection with their investigation of the commissioner.

No one in this report has been accused of committing a crime.

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