Employees in the planning department at Metro have used agency credit cards to buy camcorders, gift cards, Kindle e-readers and even a set of designer earbuds, according to an investigation by the transit authority’s inspector general last year that found extensive abuse.
The problem was so bad, according to the report, that authorities in the District and Prince George’s County declined to prosecute.
“We simply are not going to be able to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt given the culture of purchase card abuse going on in that office by supervisors,” the U.S. attorney’s office for the District told Metro’s inspector general, according to the report. “They all have something to hide so credibility is a real issue.”
Metro released the 13-page document late Monday in response to a Washington Post request for a report into misuse of credit cards in the planning department. The division has 49 employees and includes real estate and parking divisions, according to chief spokesman Dan Stessel.
Seven planning department employees had Metro purchase cards, and two cards were investigated for irregularities, Stessel said. Despite that, he said he did not know who had the cards. In a statement, he said the “purchase card holders in this matter are no longer” Metro employees. He declined to identify any of the individuals involved.
The critical report, dated Dec. 1, 2011, is heavily redacted, with some entire sections, including two of the seven findings and several graphs on “purchase card approval procedures,” blacked out. Metro said the information was marked through because it “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The inspector general’s report calls into question purchases worth almost $10,000. There was “an attempt to cover up these unauthorized purchases with descriptions of legitimate” ones, the report said. The report cites 55 instances in which an unnamed person “entered an inaccurate expense description . . . or no description at all.”
Officials could not account for some items, including three camcorders worth $729.94, a $499.99 BlackBerry, Beats by Dr. Dre earbuds for $179.99 and more than $2,000 worth of gift cards.
In one situation, a $1,863.36 lunch was held at an unnamed restaurant. At the lunch, according to the report, employees who received gifts weren’t being recognized for any “special or specific accomplishments.” The items were distributed “more in the nature of door prizes than employee recognition awards.”
Another purchase card record shows that $2,795 was spent on items to give out at the luncheon, including 49 gift cards, gift baskets, six boxes of chocolates, four cutting board sets, two digital cameras, a Kindle e-reader and a digital photo album, according to the report.
In interviews with inspector general officials, two people each claimed they bought Kindles for $946.99. One planning department employee “acknowledged receiving a Kindle” at the lunch but three Kindles were “unaccounted for,” the report said.
Another purchase card record shows $427.80 spent at Safeway for “event supplies” for the lunch, which about 30 people attended. The inspector general was told that some of the leftover gift cards were “given to the wait staff ‘in lieu of tips.’ ” The inspector general wrote that was “in addition to the $261.36 reflected in the restaurant invoice as an 18 percent gratuity.”
In another case, reading glasses, flowers, digital frames and other items were purchased with Metro credit cards from May through August 2011. Some of the items were given as rewards or morale boosters for employees. Other questionable charges were made at Edible Arrangements, Safeway, Staples and Bed Bath & Beyond.
As officials questioned one employee who has since resigned, they saw a color printer in that person’s living room that was the same make and model as one bought with a Metro purchase card, the report said. The employee explained that the printer was used for working from home, but the person said they forgot to return it when they left the transit authority. The agent for the inspector general seized the printer, the report said.
Metro assigns Citibank credit cards to “selected employees, depending on the need,” according to Stessel. A supervisor or higher-level official within each department is supposed to review the transactions online, according to the inspector general’s report.
Metro policies prohibit using the cards for supplies or services for “personal gain, pleasure or enjoyment,” meals, gift cards and luxury items, the inspector general said.
Stessel said in a statement that Metro “has already taken appropriate management actions to ensure compliance with procedures for the use of its purchase cards.” In the same statement, Nat Bottigheimer — the assistant general manager for planning — said he “accepted responsibility for the procurement card irregularities in my area that were identified” by the inspector general.
“Appropriate administrative actions were taken including full reimbursement that made WMATA whole,” Bottigheimer wrote.
Metro said it is “conducting training and instruction, as well as establishing further controls that will improve compliance with purchase card policies.”