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Investigators raise billing questions for security at Vikings stadium

Ths is the front of U.S. Bank Stadium, as seen in late June 2016, home to Minnesota Vikings games and other events, large and small. (Minnesota Vikings photo)

MINNEAPOLIS — Investigators are looking into whether the ousted security firm that worked U.S. Bank Stadium for its first year in operation overbilled for hours that were never worked, by security workers who were never there.

Monterrey Security, a Chicago-based firm, handled security for the first 14 months of the new Vikings stadium — more than 600 events and round-the-clock building security — until it was fired in September after two investigations found a host of alleged problems. Among them: improperly training staff; not subjecting staff to state-mandated criminal background checks; and employing workers — including a convicted extortionist — with criminal pasts that bar them from working security in Minnesota.

And potential overbilling, double-billing, or ghost-payrolling — charging for workers who didn't work.

Among the findings from one of the investigations: "Monterrey has employed highly questionable billing practices," including invoicing — and getting paid for — workers who were previously terminated from the company, as well as workers whose names were listed twice and whose hours billed amounted to more than 24 in a single day.

Monterrey, which was paid some $4.2 million for the events it worked, has said the discrepancies are the result of a "software issue," and that no overbilling occurred.

Several lawmakers confirmed that they're aware the FBI is looking into Monterrey, as first reported by KSTP-TV, but the scope of that probe isn't clear.

Forensic accountant hired

The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the agency that oversees the stadium, has hired a forensic accountant to pore over the billing question, its chairman, Mike Vekich, told lawmakers last week. The goal: figure out what happened and potentially recoup any money that may have been improperly paid out.

The allegations surfaced from two investigations. One was conducted by the Minnesota Board of Private Detectives and Protective Agents, which decided to not renew Monterrey's license. The other was conducted by two former federal prosecutors working for Maslon, a Minneapolis law firm. Maslon was hired by SMG, which was hired by the Sports Facilities Board to run the stadium. It was SMG that hired Monterrey for stadium security.

The report that has raised the strongest concerns about billing is the Maslon report. Here are some details.

Guns n' Roses concert

On July 30, when Guns N' Roses delivered a 3-hour show to a nearly filled U.S. Bank Stadium, 200 employees listed by Monterrey as having worked the show were also listed by the company as "terminated" in other documents.

"Moreover, 49 apparent current Monterrey employees appeared twice or, in one case, three times, on the Guns N' Roses Event roster," according to the report. "Some of the duplicated employees purportedly worked more than 24 hours in a single day."

The total payroll Monterrey billed for these 249 workers amounted to about a third of the total security cost of the concert, the report said.

Monterrey worked 616 events in the stadium's first calendar year. The Maslon investigators' report focused on just a few events for which it billed SMG, which in turn billed the Stadium Authority.

Monterrey response: 'Software issue'

Monterrey, which is owned by a former Chicago police officer, says it was all an honest mistake.

In a written response to the Maslon report, Monterrey said the company "had apparently experienced a software issue whereby employee rosters submitted in support of recent invoices were incorrectly populated with employee names from an earlier timeframe. As a result, the amounts Monterrey billed were accurate, but some of the names on the employee rosters were not."

Monterrey submitted revised rosters for the Guns N' Roses concert, but Maslon's investigators said they still don't add up — and don't show that Monterrey's billing was accurate. "It remains unsupported how such a discrepancy could be attributed to a software malfunction," the report concluded.

Monterrey is saying SMG should have noticed the errors — instead of throwing Monterrey under the bus through the Maslon report.

On Tuesday, a Monterrey spokesman sent the following statement to the Pioneer Press: "Monterrey repeatedly expressed a desire to work with SMG to ensure that all billing has been appropriate and accurate. The contracts gave SMG the right to perform an audit, yet SMG never demanded one. Instead, they made reckless public accusations against the only minority-owned security firm in the NFL."

Contract terminated

The Maslon report characterized the the billing questions as "what are at a minimum mistaken billing entries and what may involve severe incidences of overbilling which would constitute fraud and/or criminal activity."

State Rep. Sarah Anderson, a Plymouth Republican who chairs the House State Government Finance Committee, said the overbilling question is serious.

"Ultimately, it comes down to a fleecing of the taxpayers," Anderson said.

After terminating its contract with Monterrey, SMG hired G4S and Whelan Security to provide security for the stadium and events.