Nearly a year after a City Hall employee allegedly engaged in fraudulent spending, suspected payroll theft has prompted a police investigation and the resignation of a longtime employee.
On March 12, mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer issued a press release detailing a discovery from recent city internal audits and reviews procedures. The audits raised suspicions that an unnamed employee who had worked at City Hall for decades had siphoned off around $100,000 dollars over the course of 15 years. The audits were in response to the revelation that a different former-employee Bianca Bowles had allegedly racked up more than $11,000 on a city credit card last August. These incidents come amidst increased scrutiny of City Hall’s finances as the city’s budget tightens.
“It’s a major disappointment to learn of these discrepancies, reinforcing my resolve to eradicate any others,” Harp stated in the press release. “Despite this apparent, isolated manipulation of the system to bypass existing controls, my faith in the integrity of the city’s workforce remains intact.”
According to the press release, the employee spent 42 years working for New Haven, with extensive time spent operating in the payroll department. The employee was able to use his experience in that department to fly under the radar as he allegedly began stealing money in 2003, under the administration of then-Mayor John DeStefano. The theft continued into Harp’s tenure, which began in 2014 after DeStefano’s two-decade tenure in the city’s top office.
Per the March 12 city press release, the current employee in question — when confronted prior to the city starting the process for termination — resigned voluntarily.
In the press statement, the city explicitly states that the employee in question retired when approached by the city with the suspicions, “ahead of internal questioning and the start of termination proceedings.”
Although the employee allegedly began stealing from the city long before Harp’s election in 2013, the revelation is now the second notable case of employee theft within City Hall in the past year.
In August, an audit revealed that Bowles — a receptionist in the mayor’s office — had racked up more then $11,000 in unauthorized charges on a city credit card issued to another staffer. When the spending was discovered, Bowles was terminated and escorted out of City Hall.
The Bowles incident took place just weeks after the Harp administration, struggling with increasing costs and limited sources of revenue, opted for the city’s largest-ever debt restructuring in addition to taking on millions of new borrowing to keep operations afloat. This restructuring pushed payments on $160 million of debt, decades into the future.
At the time, legislators and auditors reflected concern with the apparent ease in which Bowles was able to spend on the city’s card. In response, in the fall, Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ’94 and Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa requested in the fall that the Board of Alders’ Finance Committee hold a hearing to discuss accountability and transparency in the city’s spending and credit card usage. No policy has resulted from the hearings yet.
Mohit Agrawal GRD ’20, chair of the city’s independent Financial Review and Audit Commission, told the News at the time that the city ought to be held accountable for transparency on card spending and wondered what fraudulent charges may exist beyond those made public.
Last November, Bowles’ attorney filed a case in the United States District Court against the city, alleging that her client was terminated without proper procedure after city officials discovered the unauthorized expenditures. Although Bowles was later charged with a number of crimes, including second-degree larceny, her attorney cited Bowles’ lack of a Loudermill hearing as evidence of wrongful termination.
In 1985, the Supreme Court determined that public sector employees have the right to a public hearing prior to their termination. Bowles, who sued the city for $100,000, claimed that she was not afforded a hearing prior toel or after her termination.
On Tuesday, Bowles and her attorney reached a settlement with the city that includes a non-disclosure agreement. As per the settlement, the city declined to go after the $11,000 she spent and changed her status from terminated to resigned. The agreement also absolves the city of any responsibility to her. She claimed in the suit that New Haven owed her, among other things, accumulated paid vacation days at the time of her termination.
The identity of the suspected employee is not public information. The press release states that the city’s police department is currently investigating the employee.
Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10, who is challenging Harp in the upcoming mayoral election after falling to her by 1900 votes in 2013, told the News that the two incidents reflect a lack of “transparency and accountability in the city’s leadership.”
Harp’s Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The press release stated that the anomalies in payrolls that pointed to the employee’s alleged misconduct were the revelation of “new, proactive audit and review procedures.” The press release did not specify any concrete procedures that the city has implemented.
In the Mayor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, employee benefits are estimated to cost more than $92.59 million, or 16.63 percent, of the total budget.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org