Ex-travel office chief's accounts probed

September 08, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Federal investigators have found evidence that the former head of the White House travel office deposited money that news organizations paid for presidential trips into his own bank account and may have diverted some of it to his personal use, law-enforcement officials said yesterday.

About $55,000 in news media money was deposited into the bank account of the former official, Billy R. Dale, from 1988 to 1991, the officials said, referring to a review of Mr. Dale's bank records.

Friends of Mr. Dale say that he used the news media money for legitimate purposes, including cash tips that eased travel for the White House press corps and that he now is simply having difficulty explaining the cash outlays from his account.

But prosecutors say the inquiry is more serious than a case of unaccounted-for gratuities. They suspect that Mr. Dale used some of the diverted money for personal expenses, but they would not describe how the money was spent.

As a result, the officials said, the government is deciding whether to seek an indictment of Mr. Dale that would charge him with criminal embezzlement of funds entrusted to him. A decision could come by the end of the month. A Justice Department spokesman would not comment on the matter yesterday.

Mr. Dale's lawyer, Steven C. Tabackman, denied that Mr. Dale had engaged in any wrongdoing.

"Anyone who knows Billy Dale either professionally or personally knows that it is inconceivable that he took anyone else's money and spent it on himself or for any personal reason," he said. "And when all the evidence comes out, it will show that Billy Dale did not steal or embezzle any money from the government or anyone else."

Mr. Dale, who earned about $75,000 a year, was dismissed from the travel office in May 1993, along with six other subordinates, in a move that President Clinton defended as an efficiency step but which quickly turned into a long-running embarrassment for the White House.

An indictment against Mr. Dale could, at a political level at least, vindicate the shake-up at the travel office. Clinton aides alluded to possible wrongdoing when Mr. Dale and the others were dismissed but were never able to produce specific evidence to back up their charges.

Five travel office employees were rehired for other government jobs and another retired, but Mr. Dale has remained under scrutiny by the FBI and the Justice Department.

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