Office Depot Fires Back, Claims It Didn't Rip Cities Off

Categories: Government
Office Depot's lawyer says 'Not so fast...'
Yesterday, SF Weekly reported that Fremont resident and former Office Depot employee, Earl Ante, filed a lawsuit in San Francisco that alleges his supervisor at the Depot directed him to alter data in order to cover overcharges to the City of Berkeley. The Depot ended up paying the city $289,000 as reimbursement in April when an audit revealed that the city had been charged more than what was agreed upon in its contract. San Francisco's purchasing department is currently auditing its own contracts with the company as a result of this and other investigations.

Court docs reveal that Ante, who worked as a salesman for Office Depot for nine years until he was fired in Nov. 2008, helped handle the Berkeley account for the company. Ante claims that his manager instructed him to alter any data on his company computer pertaining to the account when he learned that Berkeley would be conducting an audit. The lawsuit then alleges that Ante refused to follow this instruction and was fired as a result.

But Office Depot's representative, Jason Shockley, e-mailed SF Weekly to claim that these allegations are bogus -- and that if anyone is to blame for the overcharges, it's Ante himself.

Shockley's e-mail claims that around May of 2006, Ante "submitted bid documents to the City of Berkeley which purported to propose a 55 percent 'average blended discount' off list pricing." It goes on to say: "when it came time to enter this new customer's details into the Office Depot's computer system in July 2006, Mr. Ante set up the City of Berkeley on an entirely different price plan -- one offering 10 percent off retail pricing instead of a discount off list pricing. Mr. Ante proceeded to service the City of Berkeley account for two years without correcting his error." When Berkeley audited, Shockley says that Ante's supervisor instructed him to correct the problem and never asked him to falsify data.

However, Ante's lawyer, John McMorrow said in a recent phone interview that evidence shows Ante was never responsible for setting up any of the billing arrangements between Office Depot and the City of Berkeley. He said that the Depot has a contract service department responsible for this and that Ante had "nothing to do with formulating the bid."

Furthermore, McMorrow said he finds it "interesting" that Office Depot is only now -- nearly five months after the suit was originally filed -- claiming that Ante had any responsibility for the overcharge. Nothing came up about Ante's role in the overcharge when Berkeley city officials demanded an explanation from Office Depot in October, said McMorrow. "If there were any evidence that Mr. Ante had done anything wrong, it would have surfaced at that time," he said. "And it did not."



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