Without source, public would have been kept in the dark about possible credit card abuse

August 31, 2012|By Erica L. Green

On Aug. 8, flanked by hundreds of pages of documents sought since April, a Baltimore Sun reporter sat across from four city school officials at North Avenue headquarters to discuss a series of credit card expenditures incurred by central administration employees.

For every charge raised, there was an explanation: The trip to Hooter’s was spurred by a time crunch and a craving for chicken wings, and the setting was a separate dining area, where students were served by a fully clothed manager. And the frequent trips to retail stores by employees of the Information Technology Department would require its department head to reimburse the system $5,000.

And when The Sun reporter mentioned the name of one employee — who had racked up hundreds in restaurant charges, including a $130 bill at The Greene Turtle his last day on the job — officials said they were already on top of it, launching a full-fledged investigation into his activity.

The only thing was: School officials didn’t realize they had never turned over his charges when it responded to The Sun’s Maryland Public Information Act request, which was filed in April and received in June. His credit card charges were, in fact, redacted. This also didn’t appear to register with the school system when The Sun filed a second request for receipts associated with his charges.

If The Sun had not obtained, from a source, an internal document outlining various charges before the school system responded to The Sun’s request, the public would not have known of this employee’s card usage — which officials would later admit they suspected was abused.

The system chose to redact school-based cardholders from the 2011 and 2012 Procurement Card statements, because The Sun specified only central office cardholders.

A side-by-side comparison of the documents produced in June outlining central employee charges and those produced in August outlining all employees, including the school-based staff, show that he was the only central employee redacted.

In response to inquiries about the $6,200 worth of redacted charges, the school system asserted it had talked about this employee’s charges "repeatedly." It was discussed twice: during an interview, and when the system reached out to The Sun to clarify exactly what actions would be taken against this individual.

The system blamed the redaction on a legal assistant.

"The redactions for this particular batch of P-Card statements were handled by a Legal Assistant in the Office of Legal Counsel and reviewed by the Deputy Counsel for Policy before they went to [The Sun]," the system said in an email.

"The redactions were based on a list of cardholders provided by the Accounts Payable office. This list should have included [the cardholder] but didn’t; it may be that the list provided was of the users in ’11-’12 and because he had left the organization in 2011, he got left off."



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