Ex-Charter employee claims she was fired after exposing fraud

Ann Knef Jan. 29, 2009, 4:11am

A former Charter Communications manager seeks punitive and compensatory damages in excess of $50,000 claiming she was discharged for reporting theft and exposing a minority fronting scheme.

Mary Harp, who had worked as group director at Charter's Belleville office, claims her termination in 2004 came after she reported what she believed to be fraud, according to a suit filed Jan. 27 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

She claims St. Louis contractor MSTA Inc., which received a $498,000 contract with Charter to perform audit-related work in September 2003, was billing for work which it appeared it could not have performed.

Harp claims she was put in charge of managing an in-house audit of cable subscribers in 2003, and later was instructed to use MSTA for some of the audit work.

Charter represented to the city of St. Louis that MSTA was a minority business enterprise for purposes of the city's cable franchise requirements, the suit claims.

"After MSTA began billing Charter for audit-related work under said contract, plaintiff became aware of discrepancies among the documents MSTA submitted to justify payment of its bills," the complaint states.

Harp claims she informed Charter senior general manager Barry Wilson of the discrepancies, which later led to a meeting with MSTA representatives.

"During the January 2004 meeting...Barry Wilson instructed another Charter employee to pay MSTA, despite Wilson's knowledge that MSTA submitted fraudulent bills to Charter," the complaint states.

"Plaintiff believed such payment was a theft of assets and a fraud on Charter's shareholders," the complaint states.

Harp claims she asked for permission to continue to investigate MSTA's billing and expand the scope of her investigation, but was discharged Feb. 25, 2004.

"In order to conceal its unlawful motive in discharging plaintiff, Charter concocted a sham reduction in force and made payments to nonminority subcontractors which participated in a minority fronting scheme with MSTA and Charter," the suit claims.

Harp is represented by Ferne P. Wolf of Sowers & Wolf in St. Louis.

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