DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Federal investigators are now digging into debit card spending by DeKalb County commissioners and their staffs, and agents have contacted several who've already been the subject of Channel 2 Action News investigations.
"If the FBI is a part of this and they feel like there's something to look into, they must do that, and I embrace that," Interim DeKalb CEO Lee May told investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
May confirmed he has already been contacted by agents regarding county purchasing card policies and usage, but he declined to give specifics so as not to compromise the investigation.
Fleischer spent two months examining the commissioners' purchasing card records to expose questions about personal use and poor record keeping.
She uncovered tens of thousands of dollars spent at retail stores with no receipts; and in the few receipts commissioners did provide, Fleischer noted dozens of gift cards bought, with no documentation of who they were for. There were also many purchases of expensive electronics and accessories which are not inventoried by the county.
"Let's get everything on the table let's deal with it so we can move on," said May. "I'm sick and tired of the rumors the innuendos, the ethical allegations. We need to get to the bottom of this and we need to do it now. If the FBI is going to come in and help us resolve this, let it be so."
May said he is urging all county employees to cooperated fully with the investigation.
DeKalb County policy allows commissioners to decide how to spend the taxpayer money within their individual budgets. The purchasing cards make it easier to do that, and each commissioner signed a form acknowledging the county policy that they must keep receipts for each purchase.
Commissioners Elaine Boyer and Sharon Barnes Sutton and their aides spent a combined $30,000 at stores like Target, Walmart, Office Depot and Best Buy, without keeping the receipts. The FBI should be able to subpoena store records and find out what they bought.
"If there's nothing there they'll decide it, if they feel like there is something there then we move forward and address it accordingly," said May.
"Hey, us as taxpayers we need to know where that money went," said DeKalb taxpayer Joe Gargiulo, "I still would like to know it bought a computer, or it bought a desk, or a calculator whatever, or I took that travel trip that was so important to DeKalb County, to Tahiti."
Commissioner Sutton told Channel 2 she gives away gift cards as rewards to event volunteers. Out of 27 gift cards purchased by her aide, only one contained documentation of its purpose.
Several staffers also used the purchasing cards to buy thousands of dollars in prizes given away at a county employee appreciation picnic. No one reconciled the purchases with what was actually given away, and no one recorded which employees received which gifts.
"It upsets me, in business you always keep receipts," said Gargiulo, "I guess when you're spending other people's money you don't need to keep receipts."
Several of the commissioners and their staffers told Fleischer they would do a better job of record keeping in the future. They did not want to comment on the FBI investigation.
Poor record keeping may not be criminal, but several people also used the cards to pay for personal trips, car expenses, even a speeding ticket.
Boyer and her aide have reimbursed the county for more than $18,000 in personal purchases that should not have been on the cards in the first place. They said they didn't realize that was not allowed.
Gargiulo is glad the spending is now under investigation.
He said, "Well let me go rob a bank and if I get caught I'll say I'm sorry and return the money, if I don't get caught, I'll just keep the money, is that the way it works? I don't think so."