Helpdesk outsourcing quagmire at heart of whistleblower lawsuit

The city of San Diego gets computer helpdesk support via a contract for outsourced services with Gardena, Calif.-based En Pointe Technologies, but a former employee claims En Pointe secretly contracted outsourcing work offshore to India and Pakistan, putting the city's public safety at risk.

According to the "whistleblower" lawsuit brought by former En Pointe sales account manager Todd Dominguez, the contract "entrusted En Pointe with unfettered access to the City's computer infrastructure, including email, server and file information for almost all branches of local government, including the Fire Department, City Auditor, and other important agencies." But the lawsuit claims that secret technical support from India and Pakistan violates the original intent of the contract and puts the city of San Diego and even federal agencies at huge risk. Though contacted, En Pointe did not provide a response or comment.

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The helpdesk outsourcing contract has been a big political issue for some time in San Diego, where the city decided to try it in 2010. In his lawsuit, Dominguez claims the head of En Pointe, its CEO Attiazaz ("Bob") Din, along with other executives there, "falsely told the City that no work would be given to offshore employees" or subcontracted to any business not vetted by the city.

But Dominguez claims that happened anyway, with Allied Digital Services, based in Mumbai, India, overseeing services for the San Diego in an arrangement Dominguez claims is fraudulent. The lawsuit also claims "all of En Pointe's back office functions are handled in Pakistan." Dominguez claims he was fired last fall from En Pointe because of voicing opposition about this to En Pointe executives.

"The contract expressly required that the work be performed and managed from within the U.S. and that the City be informed about who was servicing the contract," the whistleblower lawsuit brought by Dominguez states. But after En Pointe began taking calls and providing help to resolve IT issues for city employees starting in August 2010, Allied Digital based in India was secretly enlisted to help, he claims.

There's a huge security issue in all of this, according to the lawsuit, because "unmonitored foreign entities have a map of every node in the City's police and fire department networks, and upon information and belief, could disrupt them at any time. Other state and federal computer systems also may be compromised, including federal-local systems connecting City law enforcement with federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration." The lawsuit claims the city's data is "in jeopardy" and people in San Diego face "irreparable, catastrophic harm."

"People are answering the phones in Gardenia, Calif., but we don't know what they're doing in India and Pakistan," says Matthew Borden, attorney with the law firm Braunhagey & Borden LLP in San Francisco, who's representing Dominguez. Another firm, Chavez & Gertler LLP in Mill Valley, Calif., is also a supporting law firm.

Borden said the situation introduces considerable security risks related to malicious code or hacking that might originate in India or Pakistan. Borden says now that the lawsuit filed last November is unsealed, after review this week by the San Diego city attorney, it will be possible to go through discovery to find out more about En Pointe and Allied Digital Services and its alleged contract violations.

Borden says the city of San Diego is not joining in the false-claims lawsuit against En Pointe and Allied Digital Services, but if it's a win for Dominguez, the city would gain financially through possible penalties and treble damages. His client would gain some percentage based on "whistleblower" laws.

But Borden also acknowledges that he had held discussions with San Diego city managers, including its chief information officer, and at the present time they may not share the same sense he has of the security risk associated with what he believes to be occurring. The contract with En Pointe, which is considered a minority-owned contractor, has run about $1.5 million per year since 2010 and was renewed last year into 2013.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "Helpdesk outsourcing quagmire at heart of whistleblower lawsuit" was originally published by Network World.

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