DAYTON — A company that has provided transportation of deceased bodies for the Montgomery County Coroner’s office since 1996 terminated its contract Tuesday amid controversy over unpaid taxes and the owner’s ties to Ken Betz, the director of the coroner’s office.
The move came two days after a Dayton Daily News story revealed that the GSSP Enterprise Inc. was delinquent on hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal taxes, and its owner, Brian E. Higgins, had a business relationship with Betz.
“It is with great regret that I resign GSSP from any further services, effective immediately,” Higgins said in a letter to the Montgomery County Commission.
The commissioners accepted the resignation unanimously.
The announcement came after Roy Sigritz, the county’s central services director, read a prepared statement saying he would look into Higgins’ business ties to the coroner’s office.
The coroner will decide how to handle the pickup of bodies until the contact issue is resolved, according to a spokeswoman for County Administrator Deborah Feldman.
The Daily News reported that Higgins and Betz founded a business, BRK Enterprises LLC, in 2001 while Higgins’ GSSP was under contract with the coroner’s office. Betz said the business never got off the ground after the partners explored opening a jazz bar in downtown Dayton. Betz filed paperwork to dissolve the business last week.
In his letter, Higgins referred to “questions raised as to certain ties or relationships GSSP or myself have had with various county officials. I can say, unequivocally, that these questions are without merit.”
He was not at the commission meeting.
Higgins also owns Sidebar 410, a restaurant in the Oregon District. His published GSSP phone lines have been disconnected and he did not return phone calls to his restaurant or cellphone.
GSSP had its latest contract from 2008 extended two more years March 20. There were other bidders, including Dayton Mortuary Services, which filed a lawsuit March 27 to reverse the award to GSSP. The lawsuit is set for trial Sept. 17. A Dayton Mortuary Services representative declined to comment on the action.
The contract extension was estimated to be worth $128,000 annually.
Sigritz said the county followed its rules in handling the contract with GSSP.
“Utilizing the information provided by the vendor, GSSP, and the Coroner’s Office, Montgomery County’s Purchasing Department policies were followed fully,” Sigritz said. “Today, however, we received a letter asking that their contract be terminated.”
The Daily News investigation showed GSSP was delinquent on $215,500 in past-due federal and state taxes. GSSP’s contract with the county specified that “any and all taxes” are paid.
Sigritz said he didn’t know about GSSP’s unpaid taxes. He said, however, that Ohio law does not require federal tax liens and/or garnishments to be considered in determining a successful bid proposal.
“The Purchasing Department reviews hundreds of bid proposals each year. As a result, it is critical that we be able to rely on our vendors to honestly complete all information and disclosures.”
In his letter of resignation, Higgins said he accurately submitted any documents required by the board. Higgins also said he will focus on his other business interests.
Sigritz said he would investigate the relationship among Higgins, Betz and Dr. Kent Harshbarger, the county coroner.
Harshbarger told the Daily News last week that before he became coroner, he had business dealings with both Higgins and Betz. An Illinois company Harshbarger owned leased one van and sold another to Higgins for use by GSSP during the early to mid-2000s. He said he got permission for the deal from then-county coroner Dr. James H. Davis.
His business dealings with Betz concerned a company the two incorporated in 2004.
“Due to information that has come to light subsequent to the contract extension, I have requested from the coroner’s office any and all information concerning any business relationship between the three parties,” Sigritz said.
Harshbarger could not be reached, but in an interview with the Daily News last week he said, “I don’t want you to blame Ken. Anything that happens in this office is on me. I don’t think there’s anything that happened wrong.”
Staff Writers Jeremy Kelley, Lynn Hulsey and Joanne Huist Smith contributed to this report. Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2157 or mkatz@DaytonDailyNews.com.
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