Collaboration in Civic Spheres

$16K lifted from Seattle Central in parking garage caper

by March 18th, 2013

According to the results of a fraud investigation made public last week by Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley, two attendants at the Harvard Garage of Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill misappropriated $15,932 in mid-2011, and another $31,532 may have also been skimmed away but internal accounting controls were too poor to tell. The lot was cash-only and there were initially no security cameras. The Auditor’s Office says employees used voided and reprinted receipts to cover up pocketing of the $15,932; and for the $31,532 in question, were able to classify some paying customers as unpaid visitors, staff or ride-sharers, in order to apparently funnel away proceeds.

One worker has admitted to his misdeeds and is paying back the college district; and several corrective measures have been put in place. Both were terminated. The news comes in the wake of six other 2010-2012 cases of misappropriated funds by district employees verified by the state auditor last fall.

A letter from Kelley to Seattle Community Colleges Chancellor Jill Wakefield released last week provides summary details of the parking lot caper and also praises the college’s “prompt action to recover the misappropriated funds from one parking attendant who confessed to the fraudulent activity.”

The letter reports the investigation was prompted by a whistleblower complaint. In an interview, State Auditor’s Office Whistleblower Manager Troy Niemeyer said the two individuals involved in the skimming of the $15,932 from Harvard Garage were Victor “Jay” Santos, and Max McDonald. Niemeyer said case files report that Santos confessed to taking $12,907 and as of December had paid back $9,250, with the balance to be paid by him at the rate of $200 per month.

Santos misappropriated the money by voiding customer receipts after issuance and taking equivalent cash amounts from other transactions, Niemeyer said. McDonald was reported to have taken $3,025 by reprinting receipts for some transactions and adding them to records to cover up for pocketing cash proceeds. There is no indication in the case files McDonald admitted to the actions described by the auditor or is making restitution, Niemeyer said.

The investigation report from the State Auditor’s Office says after suspicions were raised four cameras were installed in the cashier’s booth and footage led to Santos’ confession. Both workers were terminated, the report states.

The $31,532 in question concerned transactions at the same lot. Paying users were recorded as unpaid visitors or non-paying employee or ride-share patrons, and proceeds kept by cashiers, said Niemeyer. These suspected misappropriations could not be conclusively determined to have occurred because the college had no system to confirm whether the freebies were being properly dispensed. Auditor’s Office case files don’t indicate which employees were thought to have been involved, according to Niemeyer.

In addition to getting restitution to total $13,000 from Santos, Seattle Community Colleges has taken a series of additional steps to improve financial safeguards for parking facilities. Niemeyer said these include installation of security cameras and occasional review of footage; hiring of a supervisor; more thorough review of parking receipts and discrepancies, by a fiscal specialist; stricter documentation for unpaid usage; and removing the receipt “void” option. Further details are in the investigation report (linked above).

Misappropriation at Seattle Community Colleges a recurring theme
Last October, then-State Auditor Brian Sonntag confirmed in a letter to the Seattle Community Colleges board of directors that their investigations of six other misappropriations from February of 2011 to March 2012 were accurate. No responsible parties were identified, though the college last fall promised internal reforms.

As Public Data Ferret reported then the state confirmed that, “In February 2011 in the Food Service Department on the North Seattle campus, two deposits went missing and a change fund was raided, resulting in a loss of $4,665. A month later at the College’s vocational institute in Seattle’s Central District an $1,810 deposit went missing from the Administrative Services division. In March 2012 a $450 deposit vanished from a mail cart left unattended at the Central Campus on Capitol Hill. In March 2011 at a food service location on the South campus in West Seattle, an uncorrected $315 cash shortage occurred.”

Public Data Ferret’s Seattle+Ethics archive

No perpetrators were identified because of lax control procedures, the October letter said, including “not limiting access to money that is ready for deposit,” access to the funds by multiple employees, and lack of proper receipting. Spokesperson Patricia Pacquette said then that the college district had made personnel changes, tightened procedures and improved employee training to prevent similar future problems.

Pacquette has not yet responded to questions emailed the afternoon of March 18 about the latest revelations. The parking lot troubles occurred during the same general time frame as the other cases cited.

As we reported last October, in 2001 a state auditor’s report confirmed a recreation coordinator at the college’s South campus had used a work purchasing card to buy $2,000 worth of personal items and another $26,000 in buys that were undocumented or for which specifics had been cut out of receipts. The employee was discharged.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News. Donate; subscribe (free)/volunteer.

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