Janitors, email scams and interest-free loans took Georgia taxpayers to the cleaners

WRITER’S NOTE: The following is a monthly compilation of alleged or documented stories about waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayer money or taxpayer-funded resources throughout Georgia. Material was gathered using government documents, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s original reporting and/or previously published news articles.

The Taxpayers Picked up the Janitors’ Mess: The Colquitt County Board of Education misspent more than $265,000 of COVID-19 relief money, according to a new audit.

The school district received $19.7 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund money for Fiscal Year 2022. This is according to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. 

“Testing revealed that payments were made to a janitorial company and a staffing services company utilized by the School District to provide ‘retention’ bonuses to contractors who were not employees of the School District. These individuals were assigned to work within the School District by the private companies,” auditors wrote.

“Per review of the contracts in place during the fiscal year under review, it was noted that these bonuses represented amounts in excess of the agreed upon price.”  

An Email Scam You’ll Never See on Dr. Phil: A new audit revealed that City of East Point employees in 2021 fell for an email scam that cost taxpayers nearly $1 million.

As reported by FOX 5 Atlanta, taxpayers and city council members learned what happened only last month.

“According to the report, scammers hacked city employees’ email accounts through a phishing email. The hackers then sent four fake invoices from city email addresses asking for the funds to be wired to a fake company. Which city employees did,” the station reported.

“The city was able to recover about $434,197 from the fourth wire transfer when they finally caught on to what was happening. But they still lost $785,090 from their general fund.” 

As FOX 5 Atlanta went on to report, City Manager Deron King said staff never told council members because the matter was under investigation by the FBI and he was unsure how much he should have shared. 

A Taxpayer-Funded Piggy Bank: Until recently, Aragon City employees were allowed to borrow from their future paychecks, with zero interest, and it cost the city $26,924. 

According to FOX 5 Atlanta, a former police chief borrowed $2,000, a former court clerk $5,000 and a former city clerk borrowed $5,600.

“City records show former Councilman Daniel Johnson borrowed city funds so many times it totaled $10,224.16,” the station reported. 

“Johnson resigned last year and has since moved away. The city says he still owes $2,914.16. Another is slowly paying down a balance of $1,500. The rest of the borrowers already paid back their debt. The city already sent Johnson a demand letter for the balance.”

FOX 5 Atlanta reported that the advances weren’t taken out of the employees’ following paychecks, but instead were allowed to be paid back over time.

Mayor Debbie Pittman recently stopped the practice. 

“Aragon Building Inspector Danny Forsyth alerted state lawmakers,” the station reported.

“They asked the state to audit Aragon’s books, something the mayor admitted had not been done for years.”

Pittman said it’s possible past and present employees borrowed and owe more money than city officials are aware of.  

Offenses So Serious That RICO Charges Are Involved: Four men allegedly defrauded the state in a fake contract scheme, according to 11 Alive.

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston’s office told the station that those four men were indicted on charges of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. 

Two of the men worked for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA). The men allegedly conspired to defraud the agency when they approved a contract for cleaning services owned by one of the workers, the station reported.

One of those two ex-DCA employees, Shawn Williams, is currently the CEO of the Greenville, S.C. Housing Authority, 11 Alive said.

“DCA paid more than $64,000 to the man’s company for three years starting back in 2017, the DA’s office said, adding that the state agency already had a cleaning service for the building and did not need another crew. In 2019, one of the men learned that the agency was looking for a vendor to develop an online tool, he then requested to be an authorized vendor for the DCA,” according to the station.

“Although officials with the department rejected his request, the conspirators allegedly agreed to use his company where they then submitted invoices totaling $120,000, according to the DA’s office. DCA leaders paid the invoices after conspirators lied and told them the web service was completed and already being used. The district attorney said that during the investigation they found the online tool was never created.”

Williams and the other men were also charged with conspiracy to defraud the state, false statement or concealment, theft by deception, three counts of theft by taking, six counts of theft by receiving and six counts of bribery, 11 Alive said.

The station did not identify the other men. 

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