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MTA Panel Picks New Yorker to Be Agency’s Top Watchdog

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former top New York corrections official emerged this week as the leading candidate to become the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s inspector general, the agency’s watchdog.

Arthur Sinai, president of his own security company in New York, was selected by unanimous vote Thursday in a closed-door session with MTA committee members. The agency’s full board is expected to approve and publicly announce the appointment next week.

Sinai was chosen because of his tough, no-nonsense record of enforcement, according to sources familiar with the selection process. “He seemed like the kind of guy where if you give him a shove, he’s going to deck you,” one source said.

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The agency had repeatedly put off the appointment of an inspector general--who oversees the awarding of contracts--causing what some board members have called an inappropriate delay as the MTA tries to win the public’s trust. The timing of the appointment has become even more critical with recent disclosures that the Red Line subway tunnels are thinner than designed and an audit that concluded that lax controls had allowed transportation contracts to increase an average of 388%.

Several MTA board members had blamed board Chairman Richard Alatorre for stalling in filling the job. Alatorre had supported Ernie Fuentes, the former inspector general of the now-defunct Southern California Rapid Transit District.

In April, the MTA board directed a committee to select qualified candidates within 60 days. When the selected group did not include Fuentes, the process dragged on. Interviews with candidates were scheduled and canceled twice. Fuentes recently withdrew his name from consideration, with some saying that he is in line for an appointment with the Clinton Administration.

“The delay just raises the concern about what was going on behind the scenes,” said Ruth Holton, executive director of California Common Cause, a citizen watchdog group.

Alatorre, who is a member of the committee responsible for selecting an inspector general, did not attend the meeting Thursday when five candidates were interviewed.

Although Sinai originally was ranked second on the list of contenders, he became the lead candidate after interviews this week. Sinai’s associates refer to him as a man of unquestionable integrity who is aggressive, persistent and unwilling to compromise when he believes he is right. Sinai is “not one to shy away from a good, clean battle,” according to an evaluation report. Sinai, who started his own investigative business in 1988, currently earns about $75,000.

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The position of inspector general could pay as much as $114,000.

According to records, Sinai has ferreted out wrongdoing in government and private industry.

* As an independent investigator, he snared a corrupt broker working in a securities firm.

* As a deputy commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections, he helped recover $4.5 million in reimbursements for housing prisoners. He also played a role in discovering a computer glitch that ultimately meant a $2-million annual savings.

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