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MTA employee steered $200,000 contract to spouse's firm, auditors say

A Maryland Transit Administration employee steered a $200,000 contract to a company owned by the employee's spouse before being fired in 2012, a state audit found. The transaction was among $6.3 million in contracts overseen by the manager called into question by the audit.

The unnamed employee was terminated before the auditors' report, but the MTA erred by initially referring the incident only to the State Ethics Commission and not to the Attorney General's office for criminal investigation, the audit said.

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The agency informed the Attorney General's office when the audit brought the issue to the attention of the Department of Transportation. The audit of the MTA, the state agency that runs buses in the Baltimore area, was conducted by the General Assembly's auditors. It was released Tuesday.

The audit faulted the agency for a lack of checks and balances that gave the employee "unilateral control" over interagency agreements, which are not subject to competetive bidding requirements.

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As a result, the audit questioned expansion of an 11-employee, $668,466 training program that grew into a $3 million department that provided work to 57 workers, many of them former MTA employees.

Auditors also noted that the MTA paid an employee $92,819 to run a "Roads Scholar Program," which, upon further review, had not been active for several years. MTA management was unfamiliar with the program when initially asked, then later acknowledged that it was one of several areas in which the agency had paid out money before receiving service, the audit said.

"The amounts paid for certain services appeared excessive or varied among similar services and the services were not always provided for in the related task orders," the audit said.

In some instances, the MTA paid workers in full at the beginning of each quarter and didn't follow up to see whether the employees had actually worked the entire quarter, the audit said.

In its written response to the audit, the Department of Transportation called the findings "completely unacceptable and totally inconsistent with the [DOT's] responsibility to serve the citizens of Maryland with integrity, trust, accountability, and transparency."

"The egregious behavior and lack of even basic checks and balances disclosed in this report are serious matters and will not be tolerated," Acting Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn wrote.

Rahn said the agency has since improved its record-keeping and payment authorization to add layers of oversight and prevent similar situations.

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