Attorney General Investigating Office Depot

Company accused of overcharging public agencies, including Berkeley and San Francisco

Next time you think to complain about wasteful government spending, you might note that privateers sometimes try to profit from public contracts.

Office Depot is being investigated for widespread overbilling, and has already paid $2.5 million back to the State of California.

In Berkeley, an audit concluded that the company had overcharged the city for supplies, and has had to pay back $289,000.

A former employee is accusing the company in a civil suit of asking him to falsify records in order to coverup the excess money charged to Berkeley.

And the National Office Products Alliance, a trade association, has called on the state attorney general to investigate US Communities, a government purchasing cooperative based in Walnut Creek which does some business with Office Depot, over allegations that it has received $20 million in so-called "kickbacks." A representative of US Communities says the allegations are "baseless" and a "total misrepresentation" of the nonprofit's role in facilitating contracts.

Beyond California, Office Depot is being investigated in Florida, Missouri, Texas, Colorado, Ohio and by the nation's General Services Administration, the Department of Defense and Department of Education.

San Francisco is currently conducting its own audit, and is looking for a new office supply provider.

So much for assuming that big box shops like Office Depot always offer the best prices.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that US Communities was the subject of the attorney general's investigation and had repaid $2.5 million to the state. It is not and has not. NBC Bay Area regrets the error.

Photo by Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Jackson West figures overpriced printer ink should be reason enough for a full federal investigation.

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