If you live in a town or city that doesn’t include at least a hint of financial misuse, you’re one of a few in a narrowing category.
It would appear that financial abuse – whether it’s using a credit card inappropriately or down and out embezzlement – is on the rise.
Here are a few examples of what’s going on – and why we should all be concerned.
Last year, Charlack, Missouri was a quiet city that you might never heard of. In two months time, though, at least two financial-political scandals erupted. Many cried dirty politics and others cried dirty politicians. It was discovered one or more of the city’s elected officials had put a trip to Hawaii on a city credit card, multiple trips to various restaurants and other suspicious charges.
One of the accused, Police Chief Tony Umbertino – who also held the role of city administrator (which could be part of the problem) – said that he could explain all of the charges. First, he said the city gave him an anniversary gift of $600 to celebrate his 25th year serving the city. While the amount was enough to cause at least a few eyebrows – even if he had been given a cash gift, wouldn’t it have seemed more realistic for it be a rounder number, such as, say, $500? And what government would give cash anyway, isn’t the appropriate gift an engraved watch or something similar?
Then, he explained the credit card charges that occurred during his vacation as a necessity, saying he’d lost his own credit cards and the city allowed him to use its cards. He said he’d paid the amount back in full. Not that it mattered much anyway, since no one could get access to this proof he spoke of. Turns out, it was locked in an office that no one had been able to get to for weeks or longer.
A situation where somebody just locks down an office just causes people to be skeptical as to whether or not the person who has locked down the office is to be trusted,
said City Attorney Elkin Kistner.
If this were the only instance of a city official making questionable financial decisions that affects all of the residents, it would be bad enough. It’s not though. Turns out, there was another scandal that had just been brought front and center. The city’s former mayor, Jim Beekman, was already being investigated for using the credit card he was issued by the city. And, like Umbertino, Beekman said he had the permission of the city to use the card.
Here’s where the irony kicks in on this story. Umbertino was absolutely insulted that anyone would question his ethics. He, after all, was the one who blew the whistle on Beekman. It’s little wonder the city’s residents reached their limit with this political nonsense. And, it’s little wonder, too, that they trust no one – even a year later.
Another smaller city, Riverdale, Illinois, is having its own brouhaha as it gears up to elect a new mayor and village clerk. And, at the center of this controversy, is…you guessed it – city credit cards. And worse – one of the mayoral candidates is actually printing the credit card numbers in question on flyers – and distributing them. That could compromise the security of the accounts, as we know. It’s unbelievable the actions some people will take, even as they scream from their soapboxes that they’re looking out for the residents who will be most harmed if the cards are compromised.
Now, some are accusing the candidate, Lawrence Jackson, of actually using tax money to print and distribute the flyers. In the words of Ernest Borgnine, “That’s rich. That’s really rich”.
Calls from concerned citizens began coming in this week and,
According to the calls, it was all over the community,
said Riverdale Village Clerk Deborah Smiley.
My concern was that the credit card numbers have been disseminated to the entire community, putting the community at risk. And I don’t know to date if the cards have been used. I won’t know for another week or so.
Meanwhile, Jackson defended his actions saying he was bringing light to the “irresponsible manner” the cards were being treated and used, including accusations that Smiley had allowed her husband to purchase Amtrak tickets. But it was his actions that led to the city deactivating the credit card accounts – even as the thousands of flyers were no doubt still littering the streets. Still, he said he also believed the accounts had already been closed, which begs the question, then why bother with an account you believe is no longer in existence?
Illinois – Again
Dixon, Illinois is at the center of this next story. This time, its city engineer was put on leave as his credit card use is being put under the microscope. His leave is a paid one, though.
Shawn Ortgiesen, the city’s engineer and public works director, turned in his expense reports on time for the past several years. Unfortunately, it took six years for his expenditures to be questioned. From April 2007 forward, there are about $13,530. In personal expenses he’s going to need to account for. Of course, like most, he admitted to some of the charges being questionable and as a result, has paid the city close to $5,000 for those that he doesn’t dispute. The auditor, though, says $5,000 doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Because of these discrepancies, the entire city is being audited and its policies and procedures are being reviewed, as well. What Dixon is doing that’s not mentioned in the other two stories is bringing in the FBI, the state attorney and the U.S. Attorney to ensure the legalities are covered and protected during the investigation and what are sure to be massive changes in the city’s procedures.
Of course, the massive $54 million that’s missing and believed to have been stolen by former city comptroller Rita Crundwell could have something to do with the “err on the side of caution” mentality of the city’s leaders.