Prison contraband, overpaid school bus drivers and wasted COVID-19 relief money made March a month for waste, fraud and abuse

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 Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round: The Hall County Board of Education may have overpaid school bus drivers due to inadequate managerial practices, according to an audit the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts (DOAA) published in March.

Auditors reviewed seven bus drivers’ salaries at or exceeding $75,000. They said school district officials did not provide any documentation to show years of service to verify pay to salary schedules. No procedures were in place to ensure bus driver compensation expenditures were properly documented, calculated and approved before disbursement. 

Additionally, no one provided documentation that approved routes, additional routes and overtime pay for each of the seven drivers. 

Auditors wrote that they could not calculate a total amount of possible overpayments made to the bus drivers. 

“In discussing these deficiencies with the School District, they stated that these issues result from a lack of managerial oversight with the Payroll Departments and Transportation,” the audit said.

Even More COVID-19 Relief Money Wasted: Clarke County Board of Education officials spent more than $300,000 of COVID-19 relief money on non-allowable expenses, according to an audit the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts (DOAA) published last month.

This money came from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

“ESSER funds were utilized to cover after-school program expenditures that exceeded net allowable costs. The School District incurred $1,765,203 in expenditures and received $913,744 in program income related to the after-school program,” auditors wrote. 

“Based upon this activity, the net allowable costs that could have been funded by the ESSER program totaled $851,459; however, the School District received $1,161,082 in ESSER funding for this purpose during the period under review. Therefore, expenditures totaling $309,623 were deemed unallowable for the ESSER program, and it was noted that excessive cash drawdowns in this same amount were made.” 

By covering the after-school program payroll with ESSER funds, the school district was attempting to reestablish a fund balance for their after-school program, which should be self-sustaining, auditors wrote. School officials were unaware that they could not use ESSER funds to accomplish this. 

Operation Skyhawk: Eight Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC) employees were among 150 suspects arrested late last month for allegedly helping to introduce contraband into prisons.

GDC staff and members of the FBI’s Safe Streets Gang Task Force served search and arrest warrants at two locations in the Metro Atlanta area. Those agents shut down “a sophisticated, multi-state criminal enterprise that included civilians, inmates and staff,” according to a statement from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office.

“With a combined total of over 1,000 criminal charges stemming from contraband introduction, drug trafficking and felons in possession of firearms, many of the individuals arrested will also be facing Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges and Participation in Criminal Gang Activity in multiple venues across the state, resulting in what will possibly be the largest Gang RICO in the state’s history,” Kemp’s statement said.

Confiscated items have a total combined street value of more than $7 million. Those items, among other things, include tobacco, marijuana, weapons, methamphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine.

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