- Congressman: McAuliffe victory means gun control a winning message
- Clinton aide admits soliciting disgraced D.C. fundraiser; says actions were legal
- Joel Osteen church victimized in $600K theft
- Obama goes shopping at Gap as minimum-wage thanks
- N.J. woman charged after client dies from black-market butt injections
- CIA chief Brennan ‘determined’ to speak out more this year
- Reset? What reset? U.S.-Russia ties at worst since Cold War
- 9/11 terror recruiter released in Syrian prisoner swap
- D.C. elections board gives green light to marijuana legalization initiative
- Elephants can tell difference between human languages: study
Another former Obama administration figure pleads the 5th
Ex-VA official won’t answer Congress’ questions on lavish conferences
In an increasingly familiar scene, a high-ranking former agency official went to Capitol Hill and pleaded the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday.
This time, it was a former assistant secretary at the Department of Veteran Affairs who refused to testify to a House panel investigating a pair of agency conferences in Florida in 2011 criticized for lavish spending.
John Sepulveda oversaw the pair of human resources training conferences that cost more than $6 million combined, drawing comparisons to an infamous 2010 General Services Administration conference scandal that drew taxpayer ire.
His refusal to answer questions comes months after two other officials appeared before Congress and pleaded the Fifth Amendment in unrelated scandals.
In June, Greg Rosemen, a deputy director at the IRS, refused to talk about his role in awarding contracts worth up to $500 million to a company owned by a friend whose business received veteran set-aside contract status based on a decades-old football injury.
Mr. Sepulveda also refused to basic questions about his job status. Nor would he say if he was receiving full retirement benefits.
“On the advice of my counsel I respectfully decline to answer based on my Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege,” the former VA official replied.
Mr. Sepulveda was called to testify after a House investigative report — which followed an earlier review from the VA’s Office of Inspector General — found VA planners treated trips to scout out potential conference locations as little more than taxpayer-subsidized vacations.
The planners took thousands of dollars in meals, spas, gift baskets and limo and helicopter rides from hotels hoping to host the VA’s lavish conference business, according to the report.
They also rewarded themselves with massages, manicures and pedicures at a hotel spa, but later they got an even bigger reward: tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses for a job well done.
“This is a pattern where we see bonuses are an entitlement, they’re automatic,” Mr. Issa said.
The report said Mr. Sepulveda was responsible for staying on top of the conference plans. And the inspector general found he lied when he told investigators he didn’t know anything about one of the most widely publicized instances of questionable spending — a $50,000 parody video.
Richard Griffin, the VA’s deputy inspector general, said his office made 49 recommendations in the wake of its report on the conferences, though Mr. Issa noted that more than half of them have not yet been implemented by the VA.
“The problem was [that] no one was in charge,” Mr. Griffin said.
And even though several officials were removed from their jobs, nobody was fired in the traditional sense, Mr. Issa said. Even if they were kicked out of the department, employees were allowed to retire and collect retirement benefits, he said.
VA officials said they’ve enacted reforms to make sure the wasteful spending wouldn’t happen again.
“As a result of VA’s internal review, directed by Secretary [Eric] Shinseki, the department issued policy on September 26, 2012, that reflects the commitment to strengthen oversight, improve accountability and safeguard taxpayer dollars,” Gina Farrisee, the VA’s assistant secretary for human resources, testified.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Judge dismisses KBR's attempt to divert legal bills on sickened troops in Iraq to taxpayers
- Bill Clinton cashes in on struggling nonprofit hospital
- Fate of Alex Cho, cooperator in bribery case, uncertain after Justice Department reneges on promises
- Ex-Time executive gets ethics waiver to communicate with press
- Another government conference under scrutiny over costs
Latest Blog Entries
TWT Video Picks
- David Jolly wins in Florida, GOP keeps swing district seat
- House Democrats trying to force unemployment insurance vote
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Redskins bypass big splash - for now - as free agency period begins
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- FCC targets black conservative in TV station fight
- Hillary Clinton campaign received funds from Jeffrey Thompson
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
- Senate Democrats, Republicans spar over restoring unemployment benefits
- Sharyl Attkisson resigns from CBS after months of talks
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again