Pennsylvania Investigates Department of Labor & Industry

Pennsylvania Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr. says some employees of the state department responsible for worker safety and workers' compensation are guilty of flagrant abuses of funds.

In fact, claims Casey, top officials in the Ridge-Schweiker administration are guilty of "dereliction of duty" for allowing a Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) employee to spend nearly $200,000 of public money on inappropriate, unjustified and wasteful expenditures.

The "flagrant misuse of tax dollars" includes at least 1,000 personal cell phone calls to Montana, trips to casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, four coat racks worth $1,300 and novelty clothing items that were given away to colleagues, friends and even a group of square dancers.

As a result of Casey's audit, this official - a former Monroe County commissioner who served as deputy secretary for Safety and Standards from July 2001 to March 2002 and director of the Bureau of Labor Law Compliance (BLLC) from 1995 to July 2001 - has been suspended without pay, but not fired.

"The flagrant misuse of tax dollars at the BLLC was allowed to continue unabated for over 3-1/2 years because top L&I officials and the comptroller's office responsible for auditing L&I did absolutely nothing to scrutinize, question or control the director's inappropriate purchases," Casey said. "The dereliction of duty that occurred at the highest levels of this administration is appalling."

Casey's audit found that the employee used his position of authority and a state credit card to promote a personal agenda, rather than to do his job, which was to enforce the state's prevailing wage law and other laws involving seasonal farm labor, child labor, occupational and industrial safety, unemployment compensation, workers' compensation and equal pay. "His disregard for the law, as well as for workers and taxpayers, was pervasive, brazen and arrogant," Casey said.

When Casey's office requested BLLC purchasing card records as part of the audit, the employee left his position and took a lower paying job as a BLLC inspector in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Apparently, says Casey, his replacement isn't much better. The person who is now running the BLLC could not justify to auditors why he needed a Commonwealth van during a month-long trip to Florida, why he put 1,685 undocumented miles on a state van, and why he incurred any vehicle expenses without detailed records.

In response to Casey's audit, L&I reports that it is trying to fill a newly created position of "financial officer" for the BLLC. Casey said this can only be described as "way too little, too late."

The BLLC needs a complete overhaul, not just a financial officer, Casey said. "The audit findings concerning L&I's overall failure to manage BLLC, coupled with L&I's failure to address many of our findings and recommendations, cast doubt on L&I's willingness and ability to manage itself without firm direction from the Governor's Office and the General Assembly."

According to Casey, BLLC wasted nearly $200,000 through misuse and mismanagement of state purchasing cards. The inappropriate, unjustified and wasteful expenditures of Commonwealth funds included purchases of clothing, telecommunications equipment and services, computer equipment, travel, conferences and supplies.

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