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Buffalo State's purchasing director may have broken ethics rules

A personal relationship between the director of purchasing at Buffalo State College and an OfficeMax sales representative may have violated state ethics requirements, the Office of the State Inspector General detailed in a report released Monday.

The Inspector General recommends Buffalo State consider disciplining Therese Locher, the college's director of purchasing since 2003, and recommends it revise the college's Procurement Manual, supplying it to all relevant staff members, according to the report.

The findings concluded a 15-month investigation into allegations that Locher precluded faculty and staff from ordering office supplies and furniture from vendors other than OfficeMax and cited her personal relationship with OfficeMax salesman William Ross.

Neither Locher nor Ross could be reached to comment late Monday.

Ross, who has been the OfficeMax sales representative to Buffalo State since 2001, told state investigators that Buffalo State is "one of his top 10 accounts" and estimated it averaged as much as $500,000 in sales per year, bringing him "significant commissions," the report stated.

Locher denied that her relationship with Ross extended beyond friendship when interviewed by state investigators. She also told them she never received money, kickbacks or other personal benefits from Ross for steering business to OfficeMax.

An examination of Locher's personal bank records by state officials "found no evidence that Locher received money from Ross." Still, state officials were troubled over the allegations because of the impression of impropriety.

"Regardless of whether an actual conflict of interest existed based upon Locher's relationship with Ross, there exists no doubt that Locher's actions caused a widespread reasonable impression that this relationship influenced her official duties," the report found.

The Inspector General's report stated that it also was "troubled" by the inaction of officials in the college's Finance and Management Department to remedy the situation despite "a crescendo of complaints" from various college employees, including a department dean.

The report recommends the college "take appropriate disciplinary action against Locher" and referred its findings to the Commission on Public Integrity, which has jurisdiction over violations governing the Public Officers Law.

It also calls for the college's Procurement Manual, which "is 15 years old and outdated," to be updated and also recommends that Locher not be the reviewer of purchase orders submitted for vendors other than OfficeMax.

College officials also could not be reached late Monday.

e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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