Eleven D.C. employees under investigation for taking thousands of dollars from a local vending contractor meant for the school system are unlikely to face punishment, sources told The Washington Times yesterday.
Sources said a top school attorney has argued against punitive action for 11 transportation employees who accepted an estimated $20,000 or more over an 18-month period from a contractor who operated machines in five buildings at school bus lots.
Officials also say the school system may have lost out on more than $100,000 in vending profits because of the diversion of funds that should have gone to the District, and as a consequence of an unusually low-percentage agreement with the contractor.
“There is an investigation related to vending,” said Veleter Mazyck, the school system’s general counsel. “There is not yet a complete report.”
The payments to employees were uncovered late last month and turned over to security officials to investigate, according to sources close to the investigation. Investigators found dozens of canceled checks made out to transportation employees by the vendor.
Employees told school officials they didn’t realize they were doing anything wrong. Some brought in piles of cash to return to the school system while others promised payments from future paychecks.
Security officials referred the matter to Miss Mazyck, who also oversees labor relations. She told investigators that since the vending machines were not the property of the school system, no theft had occurred and no crime had been committed, according to sources close to the investigation.
Sources told The Times that she recommended taking no action against the employees involved including five bus-terminal managers, three assistant terminal managers, one dispatcher and two bus attendants, but Miss Mazyck flatly denied those reports.
“That [position] is totally foreign to me,” she said. “That is not a position I have taken on any investigation currently pending.” She declined to comment furthe on the investigation.
This is the second time in less than a year that transportation employees have come under scrutiny. Last summer, six employees were fired after claiming unauthorized leave time totaling more than $20,000. The accusations also follow an $80 million shortfall in last year’s school system budget that city finance officials attribute to special education and transportation costs. That matter is currently under investigation by the city auditor and private auditors because school officials dispute the shortfall exists.
In June 2000, a firm hired by the school system to bus special-education students pulled out of its contract. When Laidlaw Transit Inc. withdrew, Caps Vending Services was to follow. But sources said D.C. schools Executive Officer Janie McCullough intervened and vending services remained without an official contract. The owner of the vending service, Charles Butler, said yesterday that he just turned the school system’s share over to terminal employees.
D.C. Public Schools “never told me anything,” he said. “They just told me to give them the checks. I thought they would turn them over to the school system or use the money to buy things for the lots.”
Mr. Butler has 18 machines spread out over five lots. Each machine make hundreds a dollars a month, sometimes as much as $600 or more, Mr. Butler said. After he collected the money from the machines, he turned over the system’s 10 percent share to terminal employees. Most of the checks averaged about $200 a month to each of the terminals over two years.
Under typical arrangements with school systems, vendors take about a 51 percent cut of the proceeds from vending machines.
Typically, theft and other misconduct result in employee termination and possible referral to police, school officials said.
That will never happen, say transportation employees familiar with the situation.
“First, they tried to cover up when they were stealing our leave time,” said one bus driver privately. “Now they are trying to protect people who stole money we need. This is just typical.”