Metro pays driver during 13-year leave

Driver gets cash to clean his uniform

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One day last summer, a man wearing a bus driver’s uniform showed himself into the offices of the general counsel for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, where he served court papers on a receptionist.

It was an unusual event because process servers usually call up from the lobby. They tend not to be bus drivers, either. So WMATA officials launched an internal inquiry to find out whether the employee was serving court papers on official time.

What they learned was that even though the bus operator had been on extended leave for 13 years, he still had an active identification card and continued receiving holiday pay and uniform-cleaning allowances.

The investigation also raised questions about benefits to other employees on extended leave, according to documents from the WMATA’s office of inspector general that were obtained through an open-records request.

The probe found that the former driver created at least an appearance of a conflict of interest by getting paid to serve legal papers on WMATA.

“The more important issue that came to light from this investigation, however, is that WMATA failed to monitor [the driver] and apparently other employees who were on extended leaves of absence and are allowed to maintain an active WMATA identification card which provides access to facilities and transit benefits,” investigators wrote in a report.

The employee “had use of a valuable service that cost WMATA money - free transportation - for 13 years during which time he did not work,” the report concluded. “He also received a monetary benefit from WMATA - cleaning allowance - for which there appears to be no logic, given his long term absence from work.”

The report doesn’t indicate how much money WMATA may have spent over the years on this employee or others long separated from the agency. In releasing the records, WMATA declined to identify the employee involved, citing privacy and other exemptions under Metro’s open-records policies.

“Following the office of inspector general’s report, Metro’s human resources department reviewed and updated the records of employees on extended medical leave,” WMATA spokesman Reginald Woodruff said. “All employees were identified as separated from the agency, reassigned within the agency or on leave based on verifiable medical conditions.”

In August 2009, WMATA’s risk management office sent about 200 letters to employees as part of an initiative to “resolve ‘inactive employees’ related matters,” according to the records.

One of the letters went to the unidentified employee who spent at least part of his time getting paid to serve court papers, including his June 2009 visit to WMATA’s general counsel’s office.

The employee, who became a full-time bus driver in 1985 and last reported to work in 1997, wasn’t getting regular salary payments during his 13 years’ leave. He went on leave shortly before a diabetes diagnosis. But he “continued to receive periodic pay and uniform cleaning allowances,” including four holiday payments from September to December 2005 and the most recent check, in 2007, for uniform-cleaning allowance.

When the inspector general’s office sought to learn more about the employee, investigators had to rely on electronic and paper records. Nobody else really knew about him.

The superintendent at the Bladensburg Avenue bus division, for instance, said he knew only what was accessible to him through WMATA records. Two absentee managers at the division “had no knowledge of him,” the report said, adding it appeared nobody at the site was aware of his job status.

The employee told investigators he served the summons for an “attorney-friend” who paid him to occasionally serve summons, and that the June 29, 2009, visit to WMATA’s general counsel’s office marked the first time he served court papers on the transit agency.

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