ATLANTA, Ga. - In 2014 alone, state government agencies and universities will spend $200 million using state-issued credit cards, also known as P-cards.
No agency has more of the cards than Georgia Tech, and Channel 2 Action News investigative reporter Richard Belcher says no one has had more difficulty with the cards, either.
Georgia Tech has nearly 1,700 cards in use, but state auditors who look at all agencies gave Tech one of the lowers compliance scores they have ever handed out.
State auditors like Maggie Clark monitor tens of thousands of transactions. She arrived at the Department of Administrative Services in 2007, just before P-card abuse exploded.
“The P-card is not the culprit. It’s the person,” Clark said.
Georgia Tech has produced some of the worst examples of abuse.
Donna Gamble pleaded guilty to federal charges of stealing $316,000.On Belcher’s first visit to Gamble’s home, he spotted a margarita machine, one of nearly 4,000 illegal transactions with Georgia Tech P-cards.
Clark said monitoring has vastly improved but acknowledges there are risks with every way of spending taxpayer money.
“People are going to commit theft regardless of the method of payment,” Clark said.
Clark’s team samples P-card purchases by all state agencies and universities, then scores how well they comply with rules.
Tech’s last score was 74 percent. Tech's score was among the lowest of all the nearly 60 agencies Channel 2 examined. Virtually all the other scores were over 84, and most were well above 90.
Clark said her team only examined a small sample of thousands of purchases at Georgia Tech. She said she believes what matters is that all employees with P-cards know they’re being watched.
“Most people are going to be deterred from committing theft if they think they might get caught,” Clark said.
Not all will be deterred, however, and now Tech is facing a far more serious P-card problem than the low score from auditors -- an FBI investigation.
John Jupin was a special agent with the FBI and the U.S. Labor Department for 25 years. Now retired, he is a certified fraud examiner.
Belcher asked him to study a memo from Georgia Tech’s auditors that triggered an ongoing FBI investigation. Once again, P-card abuse is suspected.
“You have to have a culture there where fraud is not allowed,” Jupin said.
Two employees are no longer at Tech and a third person was placed on administrative leave last fall.
Among the suspicions is purchases from three companies singled out by Tech’s auditors.
Jupin wonders if Tech is doing a thorough job checking out vendors in advance.
“You can do a number of things online and then you physically go out there, knock on the door and see what they’re up to,” Jupin said.
He also said Tech should have a fraud hotline, even if it creates suspicion among employees.
“What’s worst, that or being on television or in the news every other year? You want to get that culture cleaned up,” Jupin said.
Georgia Tech declined to provide answers to questions on camera, but sent a statement that reads in part:
“Georgia Tech takes the responsibility for proper use of public resources very seriously. The Institute continues to stress compliance and to make significant investments in monitoring designed to detect and correct improper card usage.”