Caught Off Guard

Phoenix City Councilman Michael Johnson's private security business is under state investigation for sending unlicensed security guards to Sky Harbor Airport and two community airports also operated by the city, New Times has learned.

The company, NKOSI Incorporated, has a $600,000-a-year contract to provide security guards at Sky Harbor, Goodyear and Deer Valley airports. The company has about 45 employees providing various security services at the three airports, city records show.

The Department of Public Safety airport investigation comes five months after Johnson was issued a citation by DPS for sending unlicensed security guards to several state office buildings and the subsequent cancellation of a $50,000-a-year state contract.

The misdemeanor citation was dismissed October 26 by Justice of the Peace C. Steven McMurry, who stated he didn't have jurisdiction. McMurry referred the matter back to DPS Director Dennis Garrett.

In addition, the Arizona State Hospital canceled a contract with Johnson's company last September after the company sent unlicensed security guards to patrol a construction site housing violent sexual predators.

In the latest probe, DPS licensing unit investigator Rudy Buck says he is investigating NKOSI's employee time sheets submitted with company invoices that indicate unlicensed guards are working at Sky Harbor.

At least one of the unlicensed guards has worked since November in a secure area at Sky Harbor, where even Buck can't gain access without special permission from airport authorities, Buck says.

State law requires that security guards must be licensed by DPS. NKOSI's security company license can be revoked for employing unlicensed guards.

NKOSI supervisor Sylvester Primous says there is nothing to the DPS investigation of the company's airport contracts.

"They are just talking to you. Those concerns don't even exist," Primous says.

Johnson says all his employees sent to the airport are licensed with the state.

The NKOSI contract raises questions over possible conflicts of interest Johnson may have when voting on airport-related matters.

Aviation department records also indicate that NKOSI may be charging the airport more than specified in its contracts.

DPS investigator Buck says Johnson's company has been warned before not to use unlicensed security guards.

"I've been through this with them before a couple times," Buck says, referring to meetings last fall with Johnson and a company supervisor to discuss the use of unlicensed security guards.

"What do you have to do to people to get them to understand that when you are working in a regulated industry that you have to comply with the statutes?" Buck asks.

Six-thirty a.m., September 11, 2001.

Election Day in Phoenix.

Before the tumultuous events of that day would stun the nation, then-candidate and now city councilman Michael Johnson had some unpleasant personal business to resolve.

Johnson arrived at the Arizona State Hospital at 2500 East Van Buren to meet with security officials who were upset about the service Johnson's private security company was providing during a 12-day, $30,000 job.

Johnson met with hospital security officials to discuss reports that his employees were failing to perform their duties and that most of the guards sent to the job site were unlicensed. The brief meeting ended with Johnson saying "that he was pulling all of his guards," according to a hospital security incident report.

By this time, there was only one Johnson guard left on site -- the others all had been kicked off the property by hospital staff because they weren't properly licensed.

State hospital security reports paint a dismal portrait of the NKOSI personnel, including one guard caught sleeping with his hat pulled over his eyes, feet propped up on the desk, and another guard caught napping with his two-way radio turned off.

On one occasion, a guard became belligerent with hospital security officials after being reprimanded for sleeping and had to be escorted off the property, state hospital records show.

The sleeping incidents prompted Arizona State Hospital Security Chief William Rhode to investigate whether NKOSI's guards were licensed.

A September 5 inspection found that five of the seven NKOSI guards did not have the required state security guard credentials.

Later that day, DPS investigator Buck discussed the situation with Johnson and warned him that he needed to make sure his guards were licensed before sending them to a job site.

Two days later, the state Department of Administration, which issued the hospital contract, sent a warning letter to Johnson notifying him that his company was in default and to take immediate corrective action.

Neither Johnson nor the company responded to the default notice.

In a March 25 interview, Johnson says his guards were not sleeping but forced to work in hot, dusty conditions that made it difficult to work in the day and in the night.