- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

One Amtrak employee spent much of his time in the office sending emails to women he met through a half-dozen online dating sites and claimed overtime pay for hours he spent officiating high school sporting events. Another worker may have received more than $100,000 in bogus overtime, records show.

In what Amtrak’s watchdog agency is calling a host of “serious abuses,” an undercover surveillance operation during 2010 and last year has found multiple employees in the mid-Atlantic region’s communications and signal department claiming overtime pay for hours they didn’t work.

Amtrak’s inspector general’s office declined to release its full report Thursday, citing what it called “sensitive information” in its findings of overtime fraud and abuses.

But officials released a two-page summary this week saying they found that overtime abuses weren’t the only problem in the department.

“We also identified other serious abuses, including misuse and potential theft of property, misuse of computer resources and a pervasive lack of supervision,” the summary said.

The names of the employees were not included in the memo, and a spokesman at the inspector general’s office declined to say whether officials had referred the matter for criminal prosecution. It is common for investigations uncovering large amounts of overtime fraud to be referred to federal prosecutors and to agency management.

Although the summary report details specific findings of fraud against two employees, investigators suggested that others received bogus overtime payments, too.

“We were not able to conclusively document fraudulent overtime paid to several other employees,” the report stated. “However, it is likely that certain additional employees were paid overtime hours that were not worked as these employees received pay for an average of 72 hours weekly” ranging from 60 to 84 hours per week, including weekends.

The investigation also prompted a broader audit, now under way, by the inspector general’s office reviewing management controls of overtime costs across Amtrak.

In response to questions about the fraud investigation’s findings, Amtrak released a statement to The Washington Times on Thursday saying that the “overwhelming number” of its employees perform their jobs properly and pledged “swift and aggressive disciplinary action against the employees involved.”

Neither the inspector general’s office nor Amtrak would say how many employees were suspected of collecting bogus overtime pay.

The case summary released by the inspector general’s office stated that the probe was based on “intermittent surveillance, reviews of time records and emails” and other investigative activities. According to the report, one employee “committed extensive fraud by being paid for numerous overtime hours he did not work.”

The case report said it is impossible to quantify the full amount lost to the employee’s fraud, but officials estimated that it could total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Surveillance over several months in 2010 and 2011 showed that the employee routinely received overtime pay for hours he didn’t work, according to the report.

“For the 84 days we observed him, $16,500 of the $27,000, or 61 percent of the overtime wages he was paid were fraudulent,” the report said.

If that 61 percent rate was representative of a larger sampling, then the employee could have received up to $143,300 in fraudulent overtime out of the $234,928 that was paid during a 30-month period from July 2009 through December 2001.

Meanwhile, management and union supervisors paid little attention to the staggering overtime costs, according to the review. In addition to failing to flag fraudulent overtime and misuse of Amtrak property, supervisors also failed to prevent cost overruns and slow progress in finishing two unidentified projects funded through the federal stimulus program, according to the report.

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