Computer Scamsters Took Mayor Mike to Cleaners for $80M

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If you've been reading the Daily News's Juan Gonzalez , the arrest this morning of a quartet of computer scamsters accused of ripping off a city payroll and time-keeping system for $80 million shouldn't be a big shock.

Gonzalez has been banging away at the city's hugely inflated "CityTime" project for months, naming names and citing cost overruns. The idea behind this project was to make paying workers and keeping track of their hours easier. It was originally supposed to cost $63 million; the clock now stands at $628 million and "only 35 percent of the intended user population was using the CityTime system as of June 2010," as Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and city investigations commissioner Rose Gill Hearn stated in a press release this morning.

Those arrested include Mark Mazer who is nebulously described in the release as having "an informal position of authority" at the city's Office of Payroll Administration. Mazer, officials say, had "direct access to the Executive Director of OPA and the ability to, among other things, help shape and approve contract amendments and work orders that resulted in higher staffing levels on the CityTime project."

Mazer is alleged to have used a series of shell companies, fronted by his wife and mother, to route $25 million in city funds to his own pockets.

The real surprise here is that this was the kind of thing that wasn't supposed to happen on the watch of Mike Bloomberg, the computer savvy billionaire mayor who is always reminding us that he knows what's best because he knows how to run a business.

Earlier this year, when comptroller John Liu criticized the project, Bloomberg admitted it was a "disaster" but insisted that the city was committed to the project.

Criticism of the program originated with members and officers of a city union, Local 375 of District Council 37 which represents city architects and technicians. Union leaders dubbed the project a waste more than two years ago.

Update: City comptroller John Liu is calling for an emergency session of the New York City Office of Payroll Administration "OPA" Board of Directors.

"These charges will be another stain on the checkered history of the CityTime project. This further underscores the need to more closely monitor expensive outside consultant contracts," says Liu, adding that he has been helping the investigation.

"As recently as last week, the Comptroller's Office has continuously provided series of documents to DOI for their investigation. The Comptroller's Office will continue to assist the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the NYC Department of Investigations in their ongoing investigation into the CityTime project," the comptroller said in a statement.

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