Abuse of taxpayer dollars called Always Investigating’s attention to Maui twice last year. Now, we’re back after more allegations of misspent money.
After our earlier coverage of misspending by county workers, more alleged cases of theft surfaced, thanks to viewer tips.
First it was a break room at the Department of Public Works baseyard in Wailuku that morphed into a side-business commercial catering kitchen — tens of thousands of dollars on taxpayers’ dime.
Then it was the parks department’s fix-it zone under the bleachers at War Memorial Stadium that turned into a personal Jiffy Lube for the connected.
Now, we’ve uncovered another case of county worker impropriety, and this one really took Maui taxpayers for a ride — allegations that more than $73,000 were spent in just over one year on nearly 200 tires, none of which can be accounted for, and they’re not to be found on any county cars and trucks.
“At this point, you and I have seen some of the reports that have come out,” said Maui County Councilmember Mike Victorino, who also chairs the committee in charge of government oversight issues. “Right now the county auditor is doing a complete comprehensive study and review of all the purchasing procedures.”
All this spending was traced to one worker who even went so far as to claim the tires were put on county vehicles as often as twice in one week on the same truck, or even onto vehicles the county had disposed of years before.
All other county tire-related purchases over a comparative one-year period on p-cards (county credit cards), by comparison, totaled just over $100,000.
The $73,000 caper is said to have mostly been on purchase orders and invoices, and those usually get signed off from higher-ups.
“From what I understand, yes. So my question is, who was watching the store at that point in time?” Victorino said. “I could understand the p-cards but now purchase orders are a little different. That’s why our review was the total purchasing procedures of the county of Maui, not just p-cards but purchase orders, etc.”
That review might not be ready until closer to the summer though.
Always Investigating asked, besides the generic changes that could be made in the purchasing process, is there something specific to a department, or in this case a baseyard, that might need to happen in the meantime?
“I would not like to comment on that at this point,” Victorino said. “I would like to look at the generic changes first, and if something needs to be specifically departmentalized, in other words that department be more scrutinized than others, then we could initiate something of that nature, but at this point I would like the general overview.”
Always Investigating asked to talk to the mayor about the spending issues. His spokesman declined to put him on camera, but did provide a statement saying: “Any time we become aware of county equipment, funds or personnel, the county investigates and we take any actions necessary to rectify the situation and always have.”
The worker who signed for all these missing tires was put on paid leave for months while the county investigated. The county moved to fire him just last week, reserving their right to pursue legal action, which could include him paying the money back.
“I would like to get the money back for our taxpayers and put back in our coffers ASAP,” Victorino said.
That may take time. Some of the other cases we’ve uncovered are still pending criminal investigation months later.
The kitchen case itself is a hot potato that the county handed off to police. Police then turned it into the prosecutor, and the prosecutor’s office says it recently sent the case back to police for further investigation.