KANKAKEE — Local agencies have spent about $1 million on software for sewer operations. But they say they’re not sure how their money was spent.
The money might have involved a local firm with ties to acupuncture and a Russian app developer.
The agencies — the city of Kankakee and the Kankakee River Metropolitan Agency — say they are in a dispute with Simms Engineering, which arranged for the software. KRMA says it received source code for incomplete and unusable software.
Throughout four years, KRMA, which manages the local sewage treatment plant, spent $768,000 on an app to help run the plant. And the city forked out $187,000 for software in the last couple years.
The money went to Simms Engineering Ltd., owned by Richard Simms, who served as KRMA’s executive director for decades. In emails to the Daily Journal in late October, Simms said 87.5 to 90 percent of KRMA’s money went to subcontractors, including a software project manager, designers, developers and code writers.
What he didn’t mention in his emails was the existence of Plum Flower International LLC, which apparently was involved with the software in question. This firm is managed by Simms Engineering and Simms’ daughter, Anna Simms, according to the Illinois secretary of state’s office’s business registry. It formed in 2014, the same year KRMA says it started paying for the software.
The business also is listed in registries in the state of Washington and British Columbia. And it advertised on the internet for a variety of contract workers, including web designers.
On Aug. 28, Simms met with the KRMA board, and a few days later, he sent a proposed licensing agreement for the software, called Eco App Pro. This agreement was drafted years after he started working on the project.
In an email this week, KRMA’s attorney, Neal Smith, called Simms’ proposal a “nonstarter,” though he did not say why. He said he was asked by the board to communicate with Simms in an effort to get a written agreement “to clarify KRMA’s expectations of Simms.”
An internet search for Eco App Pro last week shows the software is the work of Plum Flower. The app’s website and Facebook page have been wiped away from the internet, although a few basic demonstration videos of the software still exist on Vimeo, a video-sharing website.
After the Aug. 28 meeting, Smith said he conducted internet searches for Eco App Pro and found evidence that Plum Flower was trying to sell the application online.
Plum Flower trademarked Eco App Pro in March 2017, using a Washington state address, according to the U.S. Patent Office. The application says Eco App Pro was to provide an online website to help wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems, among other things.
Smith sent the Daily Journal a screenshot of an advertisement about Eco App Pro that since has disappeared from the internet. It said Eco App Pro was free in the Apple App Store, which is for mobile apps, saying the software was for “municipal communications, work orders and asset management.” It said its release date would be Sept. 4, 2018, just days after the KRMA meeting.
The app is no longer available in the App Store.
“Before everything was wiped away from the internet, my internet search showed that Mr. Simms or his companies took several concrete marketing steps, including setting up a very professional looking website, which is now down (ecoapppro.com), creating marketing videos and a Facebook page and arranging to have Eco App Pro sold in the Apple App Store,” Smith said in an email.
Last month, Smith, who works for the Chicago-based Robbin Schwartz law firm, said it appears Simms was “self-dealing” in connection with the software application. He said he still was investigating Simms’ activities that appear “improper and unauthorized.”
Plum Flower seems to have hired developers from a variety of places. An app developer from St. Petersburg, Russia, worked for Plum Flower from November 2017 to July 2018, according to the developer’s LinkedIn page. And the online resume for a web developer from Colorado says he worked for Plum Flower from 2016 to 2017.
Plum Flower also has acupuncture connections. An online reference page refers to Plum Flower as an organization that “primarily operates in the Acupuncturist business/industry within the Health Services sector.” It included contact information for Anna Simms, including Richard Simms’ longtime local address. (The father reportedly moved out of state in recent months.)
Another page says Plum Flower is building “secure cloud-based electronic healthcare records for acupuncturists and (alternative medicine) practitioners.”
In September, KRMA sent a demand letter to Simms seeking a list of subcontractors for the software project. Simms apparently has not provided that information.
In a late October email to the Daily Journal, Simms’ attorney, Chris Bohlen, of Kankakee, wrote, “There were multiple subcontractors depending on the aspect of the development of the program and the development of the application. No ‘one’ software company was hired.”
Bohlen said it was Simms Engineering that received all of KRMA’s money for the software app and paid its employees and subcontractors from that fund.
When KRMA released its demand letter to Simms on Nov. 6, the Daily Journal emailed the document to Bohlen and Simms. The two, who had responded to previous emails, did not reply that time.
Last week, Bohlen bowed out as Simms’ attorney in the KRMA dispute because of an apparent conflict of interest. Bohlen’s firm had previously represented the agency.
Simms’ new attorney, Ken Carlson, of Joliet, did not respond to the Daily Journal’s questions about Plum Flower.