Gov Watch: Park officers just didn’t have time to take criminal to jail

Park officers in northeast Ohio gave a new meaning to “catch and release” when after picking up a man on a felony warrant they dropped him off on a street corner in Cleveland because they didn’t have time to book him at jail.

This is according to an investigation released this month by Ohio Inspector General, which resulted in dereliction of duty charges for two Ohio Department of Natural Resources park officers.

It was Memorial Day 2012 when the officers came across a man at Cleveland Lakefront State Park after the park was closed. They found he was wanted on a felony warrant and took him into custody. They called the county jail and asked for deputies to take the guy when they got there.

But when they got to the jail, deputies said policy dictated that the DNR officers must escort the prisoner to the booking area. They refused, and instead gave the guy a ride to the corner of East 55th Street and St. Clair Avenue and let him go.

The one that got away, LeEdward Hicks, is still at large on charges of grand theft auto.

This is the first OIG investigation released in 2013 after a rush-to-the-finish end to 2012.

In four days at the end of December, the OIG issued a report each day, most finding that lax oversight by state agencies allowed employees to commit fraud. OIG reports said:

  • An Ohio Department of Taxation agent took nine money orders totaling $3,310 that taxpayers submitted for tax liabilities, altered them to make them payable to her and deposited them in her personal bank account. She used her position to access other unrelated taxpayer accounts and transferred overpayments from those accounts to cover up the theft. She was indicted on theft and forgery charges.
  • An Ohio Department of Education employee entered GED scores into the state system securing GEDs for relatives and friends, sometimes entering fake scores and falsifying signatures. She was indicted on charges of tampering with records and fogery.
  • Investigators cleared Ohio Turnpike Commission officials of allegations involving improper hiring of employees. The probe was launched at the behest of Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, who raised questions about the hiring of a director of government affairs and director of operations. Investigators found the director of government affairs resigned his post as Ohio Turnpike Commission board member one week before applying for the job; he had only served on the board less than three months and had voted to hire the agency director who hired him. The director of operations was hired after making campaign contributions to Gov. John Kasich. The inspector general found no wrongdoing in any of these actions.


Health care fraud robust

Other busy fraud-busting beavers were watchdogs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They issued a report this month that during fiscal year 2012 they won or negotiated more than $3 billion in health care fraud judgements and settlements.

The Department of Justice opened 1,131 new criminal health care fraud investigations involving 2,148 people last year, the report said. They convicted 826 people.

The FBI, meanwhile, disrupted 329 criminal health care fraud organizations, and the HHS Office of Inspector General excluded 3,131 people from federal health care programs, mainly because of criminal convictions related to Medicare and Medicaid.

Newspaper catches speed camera fraud

We here in the Fourth Estate have been busy as well. The Chicago Tribune this month reported that company executives from RedFlex Traffic Systems – which also operates speeding and red light cameras in Dayton, Springfield and elsewhere in the region – gave thousands of dollars in free trips to the Super Bowl and other sporting events to a Chicago city official who oversaw their contract.

These findings led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to announce that he will terminate the city’s contract with RedFlex. It is the Australian company’s largest North American contract, having generated about $100 million for the company, the newspaper reported.

No matter how small

On the other end of the spectrum from massive health care systems or Chicago politics is the tiny Darke County village of North Star. That’s where state auditors this month found village councilmembers paying themselves for meetings they never attended.

Village councilmembers are paid $50 per meeting. But state auditors found that meeting minutes and payments to councilmembers weren’t adding up. The six elected officials were ordered to each pay $150 for three meetings that records indicate never took place. One was ordered to pay another $75 for a food purchase that had no recorded purpose.

Other findings noted significant problems with the village’s books.

Officials responded they weren’t aware they were overpaid, and that a new village fiscal officer was righting the books.

State auditors will check their progress again in two years, because government waste is government waste, no matter how small.