ATLANTA - Government purchasing cards have probably produced more scandals in state and local government than anything else over the past decade.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher has covered many of those cases and he said it's not yet clear if federal authorities will get serious about the city of Atlanta’s apparent abuses.
Federal authorities have already issued a grand jury subpoena for former Mayor Kasim Reed's p-card records as well as those of three other former city employees.
Belcher asked a former federal prosecutor when misspending crosses the line into criminal behavior.
Former prosecutor Jeff Brickman was the attorney for DeKalb County Commissioner Elaine Boyer when her p-card spending attracted the attention of federal authorities. Among her abuses, was paying for a family vacation with her county card.
Boyer ultimately pleaded guilty to theft involving money she paid to a purported consultant, but Brickman said there's no question prosecutors are willing to pursue p-card abuses alone.
“That's happened before. And if they believe that there have been purchases that are fraudulent and they believe are of sufficient quantity or quality, then they will certainly investigate it further,” Brickman said.
Georgia Tech said Donna Gamble's p-card schemes cost the university more than $650,000. But many of her 4,000 illegal purchases were very small.
“They bought steaks. They bought season tickets to Auburn University football games. They bought all kinds of paraphernalia for tailgating at Auburn football games,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Phillips.
Both Donna Gamble and Michelle Harris continued their thefts for years.
“Personal car insurance, cellular phone bills, personal tuition at Georgia State University” were some of the things Assistant Attorney General Laura Pfister said were charged on their p-cards
Both went to prison.
“If there's a pattern, it takes away the argument of, ‘Oh, my gosh, that was unintentional. It's a one-time thing. I want a mulligan,” Brickman said.
Reed and his executive protection officers reimbursed the city for some but not all of the questionable purchases documented by Channel 2 Action News and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Belcher asked if that matters.
“If you reimbursed it, you don't necessarily get a pass,” Brickman said.
About 10 years ago, state authorities tried to reduce temptation by cutting the number of American Express travel cards in circulation by nearly 90 percent.
The Channel 2 Action News / AJC investigation found there were fewer than 20 cards in circulation at City Hall.
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