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Baltimore water meter readers wasted $120,000 driving around aimlessly or going home early, probe finds

For over a year, Baltimore’s water meter readers would get a list of jobs at the beginning of their shifts. When they were done, workers either drove around aimlessly or went home instead of getting more work to do, a city investigation found.

Investigators with the city’s Inspector General’s office say the result was that over the course of 20 months, taxpayers paid $120,000 in wages for hours when the employees were doing no real work.

The Inspector General’s team uncovered the practice using GPS records from the workers official vehicles to plot their locations.

“It was really shocking,” said Isabel Mercedes Cumming, the inspector general. “We had them tracked to their homes or just driving around.”

Investigators learned that Department of Public Works, which employed the meter readers, had an unofficial policy condoning the practice, according to a report the inspector general’s office released this month.

“This ‘policy’ was not set forth in any procedures manual and the Superintendent simply allowed the practice to exist,” investigators wrote.

The inspector general’s office worked with prosecutors to consider criminal charges against some of the people involved but ultimately decided against it because the workers appeared to have the approval of the department.

Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the public works department, said officials took the findings seriously.

“DPW has already begun reviewing our standard operating procedures, and tightened oversight of employees so that these findings will not be repeated,” Raymond said. “Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken in these instances.

“The ratepayers who entrust us with their money expect our best efforts, and we will always strive to meet that goal.”

Another recent inspector general investigation into the public works department led to criminal charges.

A meter technician was found to be stealing scrap water meters and selling them at scrap yards, costing the city $30,000. The technician pleaded guilty to theft and sentenced to three years probation. In May he was ordered to pay restitution to the city.

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