Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Ex-Highline College cleaning supe to pay $8K ethics fine

by Matt Rosenberg December 2nd, 2013

A former custodial supervisor at Highline Community College has agreed to pay an $8,000 fine in a civil settlement with the Washington State Executive Ethics Board for allegations he used public property for his private business and personal use, in apparent violation of the state Ethics in Public Service Act. Signing an ethics board “stipulation” or settlement document and agreeing to pay the $8,000 fine is Tang T. Nguyen. The case was set in motion with a report to the ethics board from the college a year ago shortly after Nguyen had already resigned.

According to testimony provided by co-workers at the college and cited by the board, Nguyen on a number of occasions loaded up college cleaning equipment to take off-premises for use on his own private custodial service’s jobs, and also appropriated a basketball hoop with a water-filled base that was owned by the college and moved it to his home for his child to use.

Nguyen’s private cleaning business A & A Custodial Services benefitted repeatedly from the use of Highline Community College’s cleaning equipment, according to the settlement document.

Borrowed from the college by Nguyen on various occasions for private use on his outside cleaning jobs were taxpayer-owned staging equipment and risers, a rotary machine, vacuum, carpet shampoo machine, wax, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies and chemicals.

Nguyen employed subordinates from the college on his private jobs for $10 per hour, and they ultimately provided details on the alleged improprieties cited by the ethics board.

Four of six college employees who also worked for Nguyen’s service on the side – plus one other who assisted in loading the college basketball hoop onto a truck with a college forklift for delivery to Nguyen’s home – said they had firsthand knowledge of Nguyen using college equipment or supplies for private purposes.

One – the lead custodian at the college – detailed at least five such instances.

Nguyen was hired by the college in 2009 and a number of the questioned actions occurred in 2010 and 2011. He resigned his post at the college in October of 2012.

After the college informed the ethics board of the case in December of that year, the ethics board probed the matter and issued a finding of probable cause in June, 2013. This was followed by the signed settlement in November, 2013, approved by the board.

In the settlement the ethics board states, “Aggravating factors are that Mr. Nguyen was in a supervisory position at HCC, that these types of violations significantly reduce the public respect and confidence in state government employees and that Mr. Nguyen benefitted financially because of these violations. It is a mitigating factor that Mr. Nguyen resigned from state service.”

According to a database maintained by The Olympian newspaper on Washington State government employee salaries, Nguyen earned $38,666 in 2011 and $36,377 in 2012.

The settlement is one more in an ongoing string of cases in which the state ethics board fined government employees for misusing public resources. Among others we’ve reported on at Public Data Ferret are settlements involving:

  • fire safety technician supervisors at the University of Washington;
  • an ex-buyer at the Department of Natural Resources;
  • a Tacoma building manager for the Department of Social and Human Services;
  • workers at the state Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises;
  • the former head of the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission;
  • the Executive Director of the Tacoma campus of The Evergreen State College;
  • a DSHS supervisor;
  • and four more DSHS workers.

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