CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia spent $512,000 in federal stimulus funds last year to pay a consultant who's helping to manage the state's high-speed Internet expansion project while living in Colorado.
The state is on pace to spend another $329,000 for the consultant's services this year.
The state didn't start paying the Denver-based consultant, Perry Rios, through a contract with Verizon until February 2011, even though the state Office of Technology approved Rios' contract in July 2010. He began work on the statewide broadband project two months later.
The state has paid $196 an hour for Rios' services, or $731,770 through the end of last month.
Rios isn't the only high-dollar consultant hired through Verizon.
The state has used stimulus funds to pay Verizon $252,075 for network engineer Lloyd Draper, who lives in Glen Allen, Va., and $143,490 for Clarence Tuning, a Hartford, Conn., network engineer who also works for a Louisville, Ky.-based technology firm. Draper and Tuning have $150-an-hour contracts.
Two additional project managers, Lance Host and Rusty Risher, who both live in West Virginia, have been paid $99,661 and $97,500 respectively. Verizon charges $250 an hour for their services as "project managers."
Host and Risher are Verizon employees, while the three others are independent consultants hired through Verizon.
All told, the state has paid Verizon $1.3 million for the consultants, who were hired under an existing 2007 statewide contract designed for a different type of consulting work that's not part of West Virginia's broadband expansion project. State officials had used the contract only once -- in 2008 -- before tapping it to pay for the five consultants.
State officials said last week that the Office of Technology and other state agencies needed extra help because of the massive size of the $126.3 million project.
"This work goes far beyond our current staffing resources," said Gale Given, chief technology officer for West Virginia state government. "These professionals are necessary to provide engineering, project management and other functions, and to coordinate the various parties that are involved in the grant."
Consultant traveled to W.Va. from Colorado 47 times
The state is using the $126.3 million federal stimulus grant to purchase Internet routers and bring fiber-optic cable to more than 1,000 "community anchor institutions" -- schools, libraries, 911 centers, state agencies, State Police barracks, health centers, and other public facilities. The money, which was awarded in 2010, also will pay to upgrade an existing wireless Internet tower network.
The U.S. Department of Commerce's Inspector General and West Virginia Legislative Auditor are reviewing the state's use of the stimulus funds.
Rios has traveled from his Colorado home to West Virginia 47 times since being hired in the summer of 2010, state officials said. Rios manages the state's "master project plan," which includes 100,000 tasks, Given said.
He attends monthly meetings with the state's "Tiger Team," a group charged with ensuring the public facilities receive routers and fiber-optic Internet connections.
Rios also takes part in weekly conference calls with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the federal agency that distributed the stimulus funds. And he compiles weekly "status reports" for state Homeland Security Director Jimmy Gianato, who's administering the grant for West Virginia.
Gianato would not say last week how many times he's met with Rios.
State Broadband Deployment Council Chairman Dan O'Hanlon said he has met Rios twice since the expansion project started.
Rios has a West Virginia state government email and voicemail account. He did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment last week.
State officials said Verizon bills the state for Rios' time traveling from Colorado to West Virginia, but the state doesn't pick up Rios' expenses -- flights, meals and hotel stays.
"The rates charged to the state of West Virginia are for labor only," said Kevin Irland, a Verizon spokesman. "Neither Verizon nor any subcontractors charge the state for travel-related expenses."Multiple project managers
Rios isn't the only one to stake a claim as project manager on the broadband expansion.