A new, harshly critical V.I. Inspector General report says from 2013 to 2016 the Casino Control Commission kept and used pre-signed blank checks, bought first class plane tickets and other dubious travel expenses and spent millions without proper financial controls.
CCC chair Violet Ann Golden, who is recuperating from surgery stateside, says auditors did not let her respond, and insists the money is properly accounted for and not misspent. But the other two CCC members have agreed to implement all the policies and procedures the report recommends.
“I take full responsibility for the management of the agency. But give me a chance to respond and you would have all these things addressed,” Golden said in a phone call Thursday evening.
She acknowledged there were issues with the way the CCC handled its finances but said she was working to fix them.
“I inherited a bad agency and I started my own audit. … It wasn’t pretty. Did I get time to implement the results of my own audit? No,” Golden said.
The IG report says the CCC “did not have formal procedures for authorizing, processing, recording, reviewing, and reconciling financial transactions,” and as a result spent millions without following procedures used in other agencies.
The report treats many expenses of the CCC as dubious or questionable, saying the commission “incurred operating expenditures totaling more than $3,772,803, of which $1,315,635 was not supported with proper documentation.”
The report focuses on $680,172 in travel and travel-related expenses which ignored government-wide travel policy by getting hotel rooms, cars and flights that exceeded spending standards.
For instance, the report says Golden “incurred $42,199 for first class and business class airline tickets. Further review of the itineraries shows that these upgraded airline tickets were purchased for the chairperson and other individuals who were not regular employees of the Casino Commission.” Golden also rented a Cadillac Escalade instead of a compact car as required by the V.I. government’s travel policy.
Asked about this, Golden said the CCC does not have a prohibition on first-class travel and she personally has a long-standing disability which requires her to have first class seating.
“The statute is explicit that the Commission would adopt its own rules and regulations on all matters so I disagree that we were bound by overall government regs on travel,” Golden said.
“I traveled first class on my trips because of my chronic arthritis which required me to have additional leg room to protect me from embolisms,” she continued.
The other travelers were a psychologist who was speaking at the conference on problem gambling they were attending. The psychologist has a “son who must travel with her and the auditor was advised of this,” Golden said. She did not say why the speaker and child also had first class seats.
The Escalade, she says, was the only rental available.
Golden said all these expenses were not ultimately paid by the CCC but were reimbursed by the V.I. Alliance for Problem Gambling.
“The cancelled check and report will be made available when I return and prepare my report,” Golden said.
She also said “travel is not frequent and you must understand that this report is based on activities for over 4 years, not one.”
The report asserts an employee told the inspectors they “were often required to sign a blank check before it was processed in QuickBooks.”
Checks would be accompanied by a receipt or invoice for payment. But “some of those signed blank checks were not used for the invoices that were attached to the check,” the report states.
“In addition, we discovered six signed blank checks,” it continues. “These blank checks had one signature; they were not dated and did not have payee information or an amount. The former employee, whose signature was on the blank check, explained that when traveling, the chairperson would require blank, signed checks in order to pay vendors.”
The report asserts Golden said the checkbook had not been reconciled in more than 13 years.
Golden said there were not many blank checks and the commission needed them as a work-around in the event of a commissioner being off-island and not present to sign.
“A lot of times one commissioner is off island. And we have got to leave the executive director some way to pay, because we have dual signature checks,” Golden said. She said her predecessor Eileen “Petersen had single signature checks but we put a stop to that.”
Making blanks checks “is the only drawback to that system. But it was not an abused system,” Golden said.
Unless the former employee is one of the commissioners, the two accounts appear to conflict. The report indicates the checks bore the signature of “the former employee,” and Golden appeared to indicate the checks were needed to allow the executive director to make payments when Golden and other commissioners were off-island.
The IG report chastises the CCC for $138,413 in payroll advances from August 2015 through May 2016. The employees’ Notices of Personnel Action were not finalized until many months after they were hired.
“The Casino Commission did not notify Finance of the advance payments,” the report asserts.
Afterwards, Finance issued retroactive payments to these employees from their effective date of hire. “As a result, employees were overpaid by $52,360 from the Casino Commission’s operating account. Months later, the Casino Commission still had not made an effort to collect the over-payment from employees. As of February 10, 2017, none of the employees interviewed had repaid the advances,” the report asserts.
Golden disputes part of this. She said the commission advanced pay while waiting for NOPAs to be processed.
“We had to make these judgment calls,” to be able to hire people when the government could not be relied on to process a hire on a practical time frame, Golden said.
“We had an agreement with the Finance Department. That is a part of the report that is flawed. The employees had withdrawal from their paychecks.”
One employee was terminated before they could withdraw enough to make up the advance payments, “but we grabbed their leave,” Golden said.
Spending To Renovate Rental Offices
The report says the CCC spent $148,408 on improvements to a rental building “without the approval of the lessor.”
It also says CCC paid an electrician $112,700 for electrical services. The report is unclear whether that is part of the $148,404 or an additional expense.
“The total amount paid of $112,700 was solely the cost of labor” and materials were billed separately. The report says they were “not provided with any evidence” that the building’s owner, the Government Employee Retirement System, approved the work.
Golden responded that the CCC “had to, on emergency, prevent our entire electrical system from breaking down because rats were eating away our wires in our ceilings and the panel boxes.”
She said they contacted three electricians and two said it would cost more than $200,000 to rewire the facility. The work was reported as part of their budget submittal that year to the Legislature, she said.
“The GERS was aware of the work done to the building and [GERS Executive Director] Mr. Nibbs and his legal counsel on a visit to meet with me about a possible casino at Carambola remarked how nice the building was maintained,” she said.
Similarly, the phone work was budgeted at $25,000 and “done by a contractor who did the prison work and was far cheaper than the estimate presented by Innovative Telephone,” she said.
“These documents are in the office and will be made available for review,” Golden said.
Golden said the audit may have political motivations. She suggested Gov. Kenneth Mapp may prefer to have someone else in the post she holds and pressured Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt to produce a critical report.
Gov. Kenneth Mapp personally requested the audit on July 29, 2015. An internal CCC memo from August 2015 indicates van Beverhoudt told CCC staff the IG would not act on the request because it would duplicate ongoing internal CCC audits. Mapp nominated Inspector General Steven van Beverhoudt for another term in office in September of 2016. The audit began after that.
Golden has only a few more months in office in any event. V.I. law stipulates no CCC commissioner may serve more than 10 years. Golden was first appointed to the CCC in April of 2009, so under the terms of the law, must step down by April of 2019.
While Golden is out of the territory on medical leave, the other two commissioners, Usie Richards and Stacey Bourne, filed a formal response on behalf of the CCC, agreeing to implement all of the report’s recommendations.
They agreed to follow the V.I. government’s travel policy and Property and Procurement’s policies for buying goods and services, and mandate competitive bidding on contracts. They also agreed to implement an array of new policies and procedures to require and track supporting documentation for spending, control use of credit cards, enhance oversight of finances and penalize violations.
The IG report includes those responses and concludes each of its concerns are “resolved” but the promised reforms are as of yet “not implemented.”