Part 10: The Long Way Down
The Downward Spiral
The contract that Wolfgang Halbig and his cohorts in the National Institute for School and Workplace Safety had landed with the Anne Arrundel school district was a big one. So big, that it got coverage in several Annapolis-area newspapers, as well as the Baltimore Sun.
But while Halbig and the gang were celebrating, one detail that they should have kept in mind over the sound of champagne corks popping was that the deal was still tentative; it had been announced that NISWS won the bid, but the contract wasn’t finalized. In fact, many of the school district’s own staff didn’t even find out about the deal until they read about in the newspaper.
Unfortunately for Wolfgang, one of those staff members reading the news in early April 2004 was a guy named Michael McNelly, and he was on the school board.
McNelly thought it was odd, that NISWS was awarded the contract so suddenly, even though they were not the lowest bidder. He signaled he was going to ask the board to take a closer look at how the deal came about, before they sign it.
But a little scrutiny wouldn’t even necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, after they found that everything was above-board and that Wolfgang and his buddies had won the contract fair and square, the investigation would give everyone some peace of mind. As long as they didn’t find anything suspicious.
The very next day, the Washington Post picked up the story, because reporters were already finding stuff. Suspicious stuff!
It turned out that the NISWS contract had been approved by the district’s recently appointed superintendent, Eric J. Smith. Before coming to Anne Arundel, Smith had worked in Florida; in fact, he had been the principal at Winter Park High School in Orange County, FL, back in the late 1980s. Around the same time as when Wolfgang Halbig was a school principal, and director of school safety, in neighboring Seminole County. Super weird!
The more the reporters and auditors dug, the shadier the deal looked. It turned out that the review panel that had initially selected the NISWS bid was only made up of three people, and two of them happened to be married. To each other.
Of this pair, the husband was a guy named J. Mark Black.
The Washington Post checked out this lead, and found that like his boss Superintendent Smith, this Mark Black fellow had a connection in Florida: a guy named Wolfgang Halbig.
Anne Arundel school officials first looked for a company to conduct a system-wide safety and security assessment last summer. They asked for proposals. They interviewed applicants. Then they called the whole thing off. Too expensive in tight budget times, they said.
Now, with a more recent contract for the same assessment drawing criticism, school officials are acknowledging that money was not their only consideration in canceling the initial solicitation. School Superintendent Eric J. Smith said last week that the evaluation of the bidders was improper.
Of particular concern, Smith said, was that two of the three people on the bid selection committee were related: J. Mark Black, school system security chief, and his wife, Diane, then a building administrator. One of the bidders now says he complained about that issue in mid- August, before the solicitation was ended, and again in an Aug. 30 letter. “It just didn’t pass the public integrity smell test,” the bidder, Kenneth S. Trump of the firm National School Safety and Security Services in Ohio, said in an interview.
Drawing criticism now, from school board member Michael J. McNelly and a group of parents, is the $395,000 contract awarded in February, for the same services. That contract, $175,000 of which will be paid from a federal grant the schools received in September, was not reviewed by the board before the staff awarded it to the National Institute for School and Workplace Safety of Florida. District policies are not explicit on when board review must occur, Smith has said.
The director of the Florida company, Wolfgang W. Halbig, said in interviews that he met J. Mark Black at a conference in Washington before the school system asked for proposals last summer. The two also spent a day together in Florida discussing a hotline program that Halbig’s firm markets, he said. But Halbig said his firm did not gain any edge in the bidding process as a result.
School system staff have been directed not to publicly discuss the matter, and messages left for Black last week were not returned. Smith has asked for an outside review of the contract and said it would go beyond a recent, more limited review by the schools’ outside lawyer and auditor. “We’re going to investigate this inside out with everybody involved,” Smith said.
The Florida company’s proposal made it the second-lowest bidder, after the Reston-based Systech Group’s $238,000 bid. Documents show that the selection panel relied heavily on technical judgments rather than cost, and Halbig’s firm won on the strength of its experience and specific proposal.
That’s right. Remember back in Part 9, when Jeb gave Wolfgang that spot on the School Safety Task Force, which led to him traveling to conferences all around the country where school administrators would commiserate with safety contractors? Well, that’s where he and J. Mark Black knew each other from. And they had even discussed the products Wolfgang went on to sell to Anne Arundel.
Whatever actually happened between all these people wasn’t even really important at this point; this wasn’t the little piss-ant suburban school district that Wolfgang had grown accustomed to coasting through. They recognized that the deal was totally inappropriate, and shady as hell. It was going nowhere.
The district called for another round of bidding, and it didn’t take a genius to tell that NISWS weren’t exactly high on the list this time. Wolfgang’s longtime dream, a vision of success that had just weeks before seemed so real, now was evaporating.
The NISWS crew traveled back to Maryland a few weeks later, apparently to give the sales pitch one last — but assuredly doomed — try. Standing in the parking lot of North County High School in Ferndale, Wolfgang saw something in the sky, out on the horizon: an airplane, struggling to keep above ground.
Wolfgang took special note of something, as he watched the disaster play out: When the pilot was passing over the schools full of children, and realized his trajectory was doomed, he made a heroic sacrifice, and aimed his nosediving vessel at a spot where nobody else would be harmed. “He had to see all those kids and parents,” Halbig told the Baltimore Sun. “And if he knew, then he did a great job. He went straight down; he didn’t hurt other people.”
Because the outcome of his journey wasn’t their fault. And it would be wrong to drag innocent strangers — random school children and teachers — down along with you, when fate determined that your path wasn’t going to be what you wanted it to be. [Sorry just noting that here, for later. – Blade]
So, the savior-deal that NISWS was counting on never made it to contract. And looking back, it’s difficult to blame anyone for it more than Wolfgang Halbig himself. Typically, public employees and office holders are responsible not just for avoiding conflicts of interest, but also anything that would give the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Maybe that was all it took to sink the NISWS deal with Anne Arundel. Or maybe there really was some shady dealing, with all these guys from Florida spending Maryland’s money on each other. Whatever the case, the deal didn’t survive this fundamental level of scrutiny. And NISWS never recovered.
Corporate records show that Wolfgang was removed from NISWS books by the end of 2004.
One detail that not everyone realizes is that Wolfgang’s (former, at this point) company, The National Institute for School and Workplace Safety, was publicly traded. No, not on any major stock exchange, but there were still shares out there you could buy. They fell under something called “OTC pink sheets,” which the website Motley Fool describes as:
Pink sheet stocks are equities that trade through an over-the-counter (OTC) market rather than a major exchange such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or the Nasdaq. Over-the-counter is another term for off-exchange. It means that transactions occur directly among dealers, which are usually brokerages.
The pink sheets market gets its name from the fact that its stock quotes used to be published on pink paper, although trading has since gone electronic. OTC Markets Group (OTC:OTCM) is the company that provides the OTC listings, but the “pink sheets” name is still frequently used when referring to the market or the stocks that trade on it.
Given the off-the-books nature of these stocks, and how old and spotty the surviving data is on how they were traded, I don’t want to read too much into this aspect. But it does give some insight into how outside investors perceived the company at the time.
There were even forums that discussed the stock!
Wolfgang Halbig’s “retirement,” and his whole “businessman” phase, had lasted about five years. By the start of the 2004-2005 school year, he was back working in the schools, as Sanford Middle School’s newest assistant principal. All the way back to the bottom rung of the ladder he’d climbed as a school administrator.
Kathy Takes the Wheel
It wasn’t even two months into his first school year back on the job, when Wolfgang injured himself breaking up a fight between middle schoolers. (Once again: breaking up fights is something he had been marketing himself as being uniquely skilled to do, for years.) And this time, it was serious enough to require medical treatment, which resulted in a worker’s-comp claim.
The injury he sustained was to his right knee, the same one he’d gotten surgery in back when he was playing football in 1972 (see Part 2: Gridiron Daze). And it surely served as a harsh reminder, that his body was not what it was when he was 27.
Probably the most significant takeaway from this incident is that, when a Dr. Rosen evaluated Wolfgang to determine what care he would need to recover from his knee injury, in addition to physical therapy, the doctor recommended that Wolfgang Halbig see a psychiatrist.
It doesn’t say specifically what mental condition he should be getting treatment for, but it’s clearly in the context of the knee injury. This is backed up by Wolfgang himself, in his 2012 deposition.
The psychiatrist that Dr. Rosen recommended was a Dr. Lawrence Erlich, located in Celebration, Florida. (Yes, that is the name of a town. Celebration.) He was a general practitioner in psychiatry, the sort that would offer talking-therapy, and might prescribe antidepressant medication if appropriate.
However, it doesn’t appear as though Wolfgang ever met Dr. Lawrence. Instead he simply ignored the recommendation. Because Wolfgang couldn’t confront the reality: That he was spiraling emotionally, if not in overall mental function. He needed help.
Yep, he was too much of a tough guy to talk about his anger issues. Not too much of a tough guy to swallow tons of pain meds, though. Those were cool.
So Wolfgang was feeling insecure as a man as a result of his injury. But there was another situation going on at the same time, that probably threatened self-perception even more: Two months after the accident, in December 2004, Wolfgang and Kathleen officially remarried.
Of course, the Halbigs had been living together again for several years by this point. But the 2nd marriage was meant to mark a new beginning: The first version of their union had been with Wolfgang in charge, and Kathy moving around central Florida to follow him. Now, Kathy was going to take the reins. And Wolfgang was going to have to bend to her will.
It’s difficult to imagine a bigger threat to Wolfgang’s sense of masculinity. In fact, this shift in the dynamic between Kathy and Wolf may have been even more significant of a psychic wound than the collapse of NISWS itself, or Wolf’s being relegated back to assistant principal after years of riding high as a School Security Director.
Meanwhile, Kathy was interested in changing career paths, to specialize in educational technology; somewhat similar to Wolfgang’s role as a school safety consultant, except with bringing computers and tech training into the classroom, rather than safety hotlines and such. It was a growing job market, with more and more grants becoming available for stuff like this by the mid-2000s. Kathy started looking around for openings, but the 2005-2006 term was about to start, so the Halbigs were set to stay put for another year at least.
Things stay quiet for awhile in Wolfgang’s life. Though there is one strange news story in February 2005, from the local ABC affiliate in Orlando, WFTV. It’s about an incident where a school resource officer deployed a taser against a 15 year old girl. Wolfgang shows up for a quick quote on the case, where he implies the tasers are dangerous. That’s not the strange part; it’s the way Wolfgang is described.
Wolfgang hadn’t worked in Seminole County for six years at this point, having quit as the district’s Director of School Safety back in 1999 to start NISWS. And what’s going on with the article saying he “isn’t allowed to speak on camera”? It’s really odd.
The most charitable explanation I can think of is that Wolfgang called into a radio show that was discussing this case, and gave his qualifications, which indeed included running Seminole County School’s safety program, the better part of a decade before. The TV producers then wanted to turn it into a video piece, and called Wolfgang back, but he thought better of appearing on-screen. And probably didn’t want to make the correction about what his current employment was, as just an assistant principal and failed safety consultant. But it’s tough to say, because Wolfgang has never stepped up to correct the record on this bizarre anomaly in his record. Anyway, I just think it’s weird.
Just a week later, Wolfgang started posting on a website forum, Education Weekly. (This time, he correctly notes that he is an assistant principal.) It’s just a post about bullying, and how training would supposedly address it. He drops his “red flag” catchphrase, and mentions Columbine. Mostly this is just noteworthy because it’s the first time Wolfgang is known to have posted anything to the internet. It wouldn’t be the last!
The spring of 2005 was a rough one for Wolfgang. A lot of dramatic events happen, in rapid succession.
First, his son Erik resumed getting arrested, after a stretch of staying out of trouble. On March 24 2005, he was pulled over for running a red light and speeding; he then apparently failed a sobriety test, as he was also charged with “RECK[LESS] DRIVE ALCOHOL”.
A week a half later, Erik Halbig’s reign of terror continued, when he was arrested again on April 4th. This time, for violent felonies including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and felony battery.
It was around this same time, when Wolfgang was posting the $10,000 bail bond to get his booze-addled son out of jail, when he was also dealing with another family-related stressor: his mother, Gertrude, was dying. For reals this time. She was 79, still living back in Avon Park, and Wolfgang was visiting her regularly.
In his 2012 deposition, Wolfgang relates how at some point during his visits back to his hometown to his ailing mother, he also restored contact with an old flame. And then had what we might call a lapse in judgment.
Wolfgang is 58 years old at this point, and it’s really between him and his wife if he needed a “performance boost.” (Err… okay, well, between him and this Pat person.) I think it’s more noteworthy that this two-week episode of infidelity look place so soon after he and Kathy restored their marriage. (Or maybe Gertrude was ailing for a really long time, and this happened before the 2nd marriage in Vegas.) With Wolfgang being such a notorious womanizer in his college football days (see Part 2: Gridiron Daze), I expect this had him obsessing over his masculinity more than ever.
Gertrude passed away on April 30, 2005 at the age of 79.
All this tumult for the Halbigs peaked in June 2005: With another shift in careers, and moving to a new town. Kathy had landed the job she wanted, in nearby Lake County. Her resignation from Seminole County Schools coincides with Wolfgang’s, a record of him taking her lead. That was their agreement, after all.
Like his wife, Wolfgang got a job with the Lake County School Board. He’d be their new Director of Risk Management. So he was back in an administrative role, not having to deal with kids in the schools day-to-day. But it was still nothing close to his old director-of-school-safety gig; he was less of a cop, and more of an accountant.
As a capper to Wolfgang’s period of trials and tribulation, he showed up in another news story, the timing of which almost seemed like a gag: Just a month after Lake County hired him as their new Director of Risk Management, he had his own personal data breach, with boxes of his own personal documents found left out in the open at his old apartment complex.
I want to say that this was the copies of Wolfgang’s documents that the apartment’s leasing office made when he signed his lease, way back in the 90s. But the article doesn’t mention anyone except Wolfgang being among the documents in the five boxes. And I don’t know why the apartments would need “private accounts.” Whatever happened, the timing was incredible.
The Dust Settles
Once again, the message’s composition is really unprofessional and sloppy for something meant to be shown to colleagues under your real name. (Also, his citing of the Gates Foundation is almost certainly related to his wife’s work with technology in Lake County schools, which was funded by a Gates grant.)
He settled his workers-comp claim for his knee injury in March 2006. The state agreed to pay $11,750 to Wolfgang, $1,750 of which was for attorney’s fees.
Since the injury had occurred so soon after he resumed employment with the school district, it appears Wolfgang tried to get the lost-compensation award calculations to include what he had earned in his final weeks at NISWS. But he was denied when he never responded with the records of what NISWS was paying him. Weird anomaly!
Wolfgang got one of his quotes in the paper again, in June 2006. It was just related to his boring job duties which involved evaluating and negotiating insurance contracts. But at least they got his job title right this time.
In December 2007, the trade publication Campus Safety published an article written by Wolfgang, “Architects Must Participate in School Safety and Security Audits.” One section of it is revealing as to what Wolfgang was up to at this time, as it documents that he had started a new school-safety consulting business, “WK & Associates.” It should come as no surprise that he pushes for more school-safety audits in the same breath.
From the time students are dismissed in the afternoon until well into the evening, demands are made on a wide variety of school facilities to support an extensive array of student programs and activities. Band and chorus rooms, the stage and auditorium, the gymnasium, locker rooms, athletic fields, the media center, computer labs, multi-purpose rooms and the school cafeteria all receive intense utilization throughout the school year. The challenge confronting architects is to design a building in such a fashion that students and the public can simultaneously use it safely, and custodial personnel can clean, maintain and secure vacant parts of the campus.
It is because of these challenges that WK & Associates recommends assessments be conducted annually on the campus of every school in America and that school design architects participate with safety and security experts, administrators, and other appropriate persons in the conduct of such audits.
Since his wife was still calling the shots in their marriage, and her career came first, most likely WK & Associates was supposed to be Wolfgang’s side-hustle, so he could still work the school safety racket while doing his risk management office job. It didn’t really go anywhere, and it ceased operating in 2007.
During its brief period of operation before that, Wolfgang’s business made a contribution to the democratic party, in May 2006:
By November of 2007, the WK & Associates business seems to be defunct, because when Wolfgang makes another contribution, it’s just under his name. More significantly, it’s not a donation to Florida’s DNC, but instead is specifically to one candidate: Hillary Clinton.
The context for this explains much: Hillary was in a primary contest at the time, for the democratic nomination. And the other candidate, whom she was competing with for that slot, was Barack Obama.
As we will see as our story continues to unfold, Wolfgang Halbig really, really did not like Barack Obama. To the point where his fixation would become a significant factor in how he would come to perceive the world in the next few years. But for now, he just funded the opposition.
In March 2008, when the publication Campus Safety Magazine published a one-year retrospective on the lessons learned from the Virginia Tech shooting, they contacted Wolfgang for a quote. But it appears all he did is whine about NISWS’s failure to sell as many hotlines as they planned on.
He was still regularly posting to the Education Weekly forums, too; still bitching about how the Real Hero Foundation would have been the solution to all the ills in Florida’s school system.
This is what was left of Wolfgang’s life, at age 61. Mourning his failed hustles, holding out for a Hillary win in the democratic primary, and posting barely-coherent comments online. That, and working his boring desk job. But as we will soon see, his day job as Director of Risk Management for Lake County Schools was not quite as simple as it appeared. In fact, Wolfgang Halbig was starting to suspect that there was a conspiracy afoot, working against him behind the scenes. And this time, he was going to fight back.
Austin “Blade” Tompkins is a certified forklift and order-picker operator located in the province of Ontario. He was an active Sandy-Hook “hoaxer” from 2013 to 2014. He has been sober since 2015.