- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nine laptop computers, a power generator, a DVD player, a BlackBerry wireless device, a color printer, a digital camera, lots of tools and a computer monitor used for watching movies were among dozens of items of Metro property found inside the home of a longtime transit worker.

“You would call it stealing, but I would say it was more like borrowing,” the employee said when confronted by investigators about the more than 70 items of transit agency property found inside his house, according to an internal report.

Click here to view a list of the recovered items(PDF)

The employee said he took the portable power generator about six years earlier because he lost power at his home during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. He said he was worried about losing power again if another storm hit.

But records show that the former employee, whose name was redacted in documents provided to The Washington Times, was never prosecuted for the borrowing spree. Citing theft among other possible charges, investigators referred the case to the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office in Prince George’s County for criminal prosecution.

But in a letter to Metro's Office of Inspector General, the prosecutor's office cited serious problems in the transit agency’s internal policies as the reason for turning down the case, documents show.

“Strict internal oversight and control measures dealing with the accounting, auditing and approval of the use of Metro equipment and funds appears to have been lacking and may have served to create an atmosphere where such behavior, although not explicitly condoned or excused, was part of an implicitly tolerated practice,” prosecutors told Metro.

Indeed, the employee apparently wasn’t alone. Not long after investigators searched the employee’s house, word spread and others in Metro’s automatic train branch began coming to work with items they also had taken home, records show.

Nancy Lineman, a spokeswoman for Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, said the decision not to prosecute was made because of “insufficient evidence,” adding that the decision was made before Ms. Alsobrooks took office.

“In consultation with the [Metro] investigators, the last administration declined to prosecute this case because of insufficient evidence,” she said. “We did not believe that we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed in this instance.”

Former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey declined to elaborate on Ms. Lineman’s statement Wednesday.

The Times learned of the case through an internal Metro Office of Inspector General report summarizing the probe, which was obtained in response to an open records request made in February.

The employee’s name was redacted in the report because Metro said disclosure would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” The report said the employee worked in Metro’s Automatic Train Control (ATC) branch.

Metro officials contacted about the report this week did not dispute the conclusions by the Prince George’s prosecutors concerning the lack of internal controls at the time.

“This IG report predates [General Manager] Rich Sarles and his team, but I can say that since 2010, we have taken a number of steps to tighten internal controls governing Metro-owned equipment and P-cards,” Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said, referring to purchase cards.

Mr. Stessel cited the implementation of a computerized inventory tracking system to better match employees with signed-out equipment and heighten enforcement of restrictions governing the use of Metro purchase cards.

According to the report, the unnamed employee was able to retire in March 2010, with benefits provided by a union, not Metro’s retirement benefits program. In a January 2010 grievance letter accompanying the report, the employee wrote of his “involuntary termination” and that he wanted to explain his actions.

The employee noted in the letter that he had consented to a search of his house. He said he had several broken laptops he was trying to fix and that other equipment was being stored at home while he moved between offices. The employee wrote that he “always tried to give 110-percent toward Metro.”

“I now fully realize I should not have mixed my personal vehicle and home with ATC business,” he added.

The employee also came under scrutiny for numerous questionable transactions involving his Metro-issued purchase card, including a $40 to $50 bag for his fiancee, near weekly purchases at Giant or Safeway supermarkets and other purchases at Best Buy and Wal-Mart, records show.

Metro's Office of Inspector General traced one purchase for more than $800 to a 32-inch computer monitor that investigators saw in the employee’s kitchen. The report said a child was watching a movie on the monitor when investigators searched the residence.

In addition, an external computer hard drive that also belonged to Metro contained numerous downloaded movies, the report found.

An internal review conducted within weeks of the start of the investigation listed 645 items of Metro-owned property from the automatic train control branch that could not be located. The list did not include the items recovered from the unnamed employee’s house, the report said.

“An employee in ATC advised that other ATC employees took equipment home,” the report said. Immediately after inspectors recovered property at the employee’s house, “other ATC employees began to bring into the office Metro-owned equipment that they had apparently been keeping at home,” the report said.

The unnamed employee ultimately admitted that he took home 74 pieces of Metro property, but told investigators he was only storing the items and did not intend to keep them. Investigators disagreed, saying the generator had been taken years earlier and that other items in the house were located in the home’s basement with clothing and debris piled on top of them.

“The manner in which the items were kept throughout the house commingled with … personal property and the fact that many of the items were hidden underneath clothes and debris does not reflect intent to store items temporarily for safekeeping,” the report concluded.