Police to Open Sweeping Credit Card Probe

Posted July 12, 2004 at 6:36pm

The Capitol Police will conduct a full-scale audit of nearly 700 government-issued credit cards to determine whether widespread abuse exists within the department after a preliminary report issued to Congressional oversight committees indicated one employee misused an account for personal expenses.

“Capitol Police will be doing an audit and review of the records for each cardholder,” said Officer Michael Lauer, a police spokesman.

In addition, the department will conduct a separate review of accounts for three unnamed individuals whose spending records were disclosed in a media report last week. Capitol Police officials have revoked those individuals’ credit cards until the investigation is completed, Lauer said.

According to a House Administration Committee aide, the initial review — provided by the police to Congressional panels with oversight of the department — does not indicate extensive abuse of the credit cards, which are provided to both sworn and civilian employees to pay travel-related expenses.

“At this point, it appears that this misuse was limited to a single individual and the police are addressing that,” said committee spokesman Brian Walsh. “In addition though, the committee has also requested that the police thoroughly examine the procedures in place for issuing cards and ensuring accountability in the process. That review is currently under way and the process is being strengthened.”

Lauer noted that the accounts are subject to a series of “checks and balances” conducted by both the department and Citigroup, which issues the cards.

“We adhere to the same rules and regulations” as other federal agencies, Lauer said.

But documents obtained by Roll Call that list transactions dating back to January 2003 reveal that some employees have charged hundreds of dollars in personal expenses, such as groceries, gasoline and restaurant meals.

In addition, the documents list numerous cash withdrawals, a transaction that under guidelines issued by the General Services Administration, which contracts for all government credit cards, should not be made “unless you are on travel or will be on travel shortly.”

Employees do not actually bill the department for their transactions, explained a source familiar with the credit system who requested to remain anonymous, but the purchases violate contracts agreed to by GSA and the creditors.

Typically, the source said, an abuser will pay off a card each month — which is required under GSA guidelines — but after making payment, the employee will then make numerous cash advances, effectively maintaining the same balance.

Although the cards are billed to individuals, there is no interest rate associated with the government accounts, allowing abusers to maintain high balances without penalty.

One Capitol Police employee whose name appears in the records obtained by Roll Call denied any wrongdoing.

“We’ve all used the cards appropriately,” the individual said. He declined further comment and referred questions to the department’s public relations office.