Approximately $133,000 worth of purchases were made in breach of policy guidelines via purchase cards issued to the assistant director of the county school system’s Department of Transportation, according to a new report released by the Office of the Inspector General.
The OIG considered $1,600 of those purchases to be “possibly for personal, not MCPS-related, use.”
An investigation by the OIG conducted in consultation with Montgomery County Police, took place from May to November 2022. It involved analyzing over $570,000 worth of transaction data covering all 12 purchase cards assigned to MCPS DOT employees from July 2020 to June 2022.
As a result of the investigation, MCPS told Bethesda Beat in mid-November it had placed Director Todd Watkins and Assistant Director Charles Ewald on administrative leave due to suspicion of “financial improprieties,” but could not comment further on the active investigation. The OIG’s final report was released Dec. 19 shortly after noon.
The report included a table listing over $4,933 worth of “potentially personal items” bought with employer-issued purchase cards issued to Ewald. Those items included a $60 car headrest pillow, a $129 kayak car roof rack, and a $1,498 Home Depot gift card.
Investigators also found that Ewald “entered misleading descriptions of certain purchases” into the organization’s payment system, “possibly to disguise personal purchases as work related.” For example, the report found Ewald’s card was used to buy an Apple Watch wrist band in April 2020, but the payment system lists the item as a “laptop accessory.”
Ewald, Watkins and other MCPS DOT cardholders made prohibited purchases of furniture, gas, travel and entertainment-related items, the OIG reported, and “frequently failed to comply with MCPS policies” related to the use of purchase cards.
As a result of the investigation, MCPS is in the process of updating several policies to ensure stricter oversight, including annual employee training on card usage and reduced transaction limits.
Montgomery County Police’s own investigation, initiated in November, is still ongoing. The OIG’s report encourages MCPS to continue cooperating with law enforcement’s efforts to recoup the money and prosecute any illegal activity. The report also suggests conducting a reconciliation to make sure all Ewald’s purchase items are accounted, among other recommendations.
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