Guard Slack

Phoenix aviation department officials are considering canceling an $800,000-a-year contract for a security services company owned by Phoenix city councilman Michael Johnson because the company has failed to perform its duties.

Aviation director David Krietor says a decision will be made in the next week or so whether to seek new bids or extend a contract with NKOSI Inc. that is set to expire on July 31.

The contract includes a one-year renewal option for the company that provides supplemental, unarmed security services at three Phoenix airports — Sky Harbor, Deer Valley and Goodyear.

"NKOSI has had some challenges," Krietor says.

Internal aviation department reports from Goodyear and Deer Valley show NKOSI employees have been found sleeping on duty, abandoning their posts during shifts, bringing friends to work and deploying unlicensed security guards. Sky Harbor records have not yet been made public, but the incidents at the other two airports raise concerns over how NKOSI is handling security at the state's largest airport.

"All of those issues need to be seriously considered when we make a recommendation on whether or not to exercise the option year on the contract," Krietor says.

Records indicate that NKOSI has been paid for services it did not perform. Despite warnings last winter from senior aviation department officials, no financial audit of NKOSI's contract has been conducted.

Johnson's airport contract raises a direct conflict-of-interest issue for the first-term council member since the airport is owned and operated by the city of Phoenix. Johnson has indicated he planned to seek renewal of the contract that was awarded in July 2000.

Krietor, meanwhile, is faced with possibly recommending canceling a lucrative contract for a city council member who has significant influence over airport operations.

"He's somebody we need to work with in that capacity and we are working very, very hard in trying to balance that relationship," Krietor says. "He's been open to criticisms that we have had relative to some of these shortfalls. He said he would work on them and try to correct them."

NKOSI's problems at the airport are the latest in a series the company has faced in the last year. The state canceled three contracts with Johnson's company last fall after it was discovered NKOSI was sending unlicensed security guards to the state hospital and other state buildings.

The state Department of Public Safety, which licenses security guards and security guard companies, issued a misdemeanor citation to Johnson last year for deploying unlicensed guards. The citation was later dismissed by a Phoenix justice of the peace.

Johnson is a retired Phoenix police officer who owns and operates NKOSI, which provides private security and private investigation services. The company does not have a physical business address and receives its mail from a private mailbox vendor in Phoenix.

The Phoenix aviation department appeared prepared to extend the NKOSI contract until New Times began investigating NKOSI's airport security operations and reported that guards being sent to the airport were unlicensed ("Caught Off Guard," John Dougherty, March 28).

The aviation department on March 5 offered to extend NKOSI's contract one year. Johnson accepted the offer on April 6, records show.

But Krietor says he has since informed Johnson that a final decision on whether to extend the contract has not been made.

The pending expiration of the NKOSI contract leaves little time for the airport to prepare public bids for private security services at the airports. Krietor says the aviation department may extend the contract for several months to give it time to prepare and receive bids.

But any short-term extension would require Phoenix City Council approval — setting up a conflict-of-interest situation for Johnson.

Johnson did not return several phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Records released from Deer Valley and Goodyear airports reveal numerous incidents where NKOSI failed to perform its duties. The company was hired to provide night security services at both airports.

NKOSI also supplies security services at Sky Harbor Airport. Records released to New Times under the state public records law do not include any records related to NKOSI's operations at Sky Harbor. NKOSI has a contract to guard a gate that leads to the airfield at Sky Harbor as well as provide surveillance for several elevators.

Krietor says the airport is continuing to review internal records at Sky Harbor for reports related to NKOSI operations.

Last February 7, a NKOSI security guard abandoned a post at Goodyear Airport one hour into the shift because of a family emergency. NKOSI did not send a back-up, nor was the airport notified that the guard had left until the next day.

Goodyear Airport officials contacted NKOSI on February 8, records show, and were told by NKOSI manager Sylvester Primous that "NKOSI couldn't provide appropriate reserves," according to a memo outlining the incident written by Shawn Arena, Goodyear Airport manager.

"In light of recent attention focusing heightened security for airports, it is disturbing that contractual security services are not maintained," Arena stated in his February 8 report to A.W. "Jack" Schelter Jr., deputy aviation director.

Goodyear Airport includes a maintenance facility that repairs large commercial jets including DC-10s. Some of the aircraft are operational and theoretically could be stolen, Krietor says.

Deer Valley Airport officials stepped up surveillance of NKOSI's services in late November after NKOSI employees were found sleeping on the job and showing up unprepared for work.

Over the next month, Deer Valley reported several instances of NKOSI guards failing to report to work, coming in late or disappearing during their shift. Records also indicate that there were frequent long lapses between gate inspections by NKOSI guards.

"It appears that the NKOSI guard is showing up for duty and then exiting the airfield a few minutes later and then re-appearing 5 or 6 hours later," states a December 15 report prepared by a Deer Valley aviation official.

Four days later, Schelter notified assistant aviation director David Cavazos of the series of problems at Deer Valley.

"Over the past several weeks I have become increasingly concerned regarding the on-airport security we are receiving from our after hours contractor (NKOSI)," Schelter stated. "Preliminary data would indicate that we may not be receiving the services we have contracted for."

NKOSI guards continued their lax performance.

On Christmas Day, records show the NKOSI guard was seen driving away from the airport at 9:12 p.m. Records indicate the guard did not return until 3:30 a.m. December 26.

Two days later, NKOSI was a no-show again.

"The NKOSI security guard did not show up for last night's shift," a Deer Valley aviation official stated in a December 28 e-mail to Schelter.

Aviation director Krietor met with Councilman Johnson on December 31 to discuss NKOSI's performance.

"He [Johnson] assured me that he would correct any deficiencies," Krietor stated in an e-mail to Goodyear and Deer Valley airport directors.

But the problems continued.

On March 16, Deer Valley officials discovered that a NKOSI guard had brought a friend with him to work and had taken the person into secure areas on the airfield. The friend — a former NKOSI security guard who had not been licensed by the state — was ordered off the property.

On March 18, Deer Valley officials found the NKOSI guard sleeping in the front seat of his car.

NKOSI's lackadaisical operation continued into April.

At 3 a.m. on April 4, police assigned to a patrol helicopter at Deer Valley examined a suspiciously parked vehicle near a hangar.

"They found a single occupant in the vehicle, asleep. The officers pounded on the vehicle and the windows in an attempt to wake the occupant up. When that didn't work, they pounded more vigorously and finally roused the occupant," airport records state.

The occupant "identified himself as the NKOSI guard."

In another report related to the same incident, an airport official stated: "As I was walking past the car, I heard a peculiar but recognizable sound. I took a step or two closer and then it clicked — the unmistakable sound of an alarm clock going off."

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty