The political corruption investigation that would infamously lead to the resignation of then-U.S. vice president Spiro Agnew in 1973 is said to have begun with an anonymous phone call to the Internal Revenue Service, stating that agents would find “interesting things” going on in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Initially, the investigation focused its attention on Dale Anderson, a prominent Democratic politician who had succeeded the Republican Agnew as Baltimore County executive. Under pressure from prosecutors, Anderson’s county administrator, William Fornoff, pleaded guilty to a minor tax violation and agreed to co-operate with investigators in return for immunity from further prosecution.
Fornoff claimed that he had served for several years as a middleman between Anderson and local engineering and architecture firms, collecting payments for Anderson in exchange for preferential treatment in the awarding of no-bid county contracts. When confronted by investigators with details of Fornoff’s claim, several of these design professionals readily accepted immunity deals of their own-offering in return testimony that they had made payments to both Anderson and his predecessor, Agnew, and that their payments to the latter official had occurred not only during Agnew’s term as county executive but also through his two years as governor of Maryland and into his vice presidency.
One of the testifying engineers, an ASCE member and principal of a small Maryland firm, explained that his involvement in the scheme had begun when his firm first sought to branch out from its service to a strictly private client base. The engineer had hoped that a balance of public and private work would shield the growing firm from fluctuations in demand in either arena; however, the engineer encountered surprising difficulty in procuring even a single public contract for his firm. The engineer was repeatedly told that his firm was too small or lacked the necessary large-project experience to qualify for work.
While the principal had heard rumors of these schemes, he initially did not pay much heed to those rumors. But then his firm was invited by the county to compete for a large sanitary works project, an area of practice in which the firm held particular expertise. The engineer said that, after a strong proposal and series of fruitful meetings with officials from the department of public works, he felt sure the project was his company’s-only again to be told that the contract had been awarded to another firm.
Soon afterward, the engineer was approached by a member of the county executive’s staff with an offer to assist the firm in securing work from the agency. The engineer met with the county employee, and a deal was struck; the engineer would pay small sums of money to county officials in exchange for public contracts for his firm.
While his role in this scheme spanned nearly a decade, the engineer insisted that his participation had always been with great reluctance and with the belief that it was a temporary evil. The engineer claimed that only large firms and firms with unique specialties were able to resist the pressure to pay kickbacks and that it was his hope that his firm would eventually “mature out of” the need to take part in the scheme.
As reports of the investigation and trial blanketed the national news media, more than 100 ASCE members signed a petition urging the Society to take action against members named in the scheme. The petition was forwarded to ASCE’s Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC), which opened a case.
What provisions of the ASCE Code of Ethics were violated by this member’s actions?