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Montgomery Inspector General's report faults oversight in tuition program

Montgomery County

Montgomery County awarded more than $600,000 in no-bid payments to nine companies that had ties to county police officers and were part of controversial tuition assistance program, Montgomery's inspector general said in a report released Monday.

The government provided little oversight over the training, and in many cases appeared to simply respond to invoices by cutting checks as large as $59,800, according the report. The lack of controls enabled 216 county employees -- police officers, sheriff's deputies and corrections officers -- to take county-funded classes and, at the end of the classes, purchase deeply discounted guns that one official has called the "candy" to get them to enroll in the classes in the first place.

The close ties among the companies and the employees, the inspector general concluded, "has and will continue to expose county taxpayer dollars to waste and abuse until comprehensive guidelines and monitoring are put in place."

Problems in the tuition assistance program initially were uncovered by Montgomery County Sheriff Raymond M. Kight in July. Two deputies reported that they'd been to a two-day firearms training class and that its chief virtue was the great deal they could get on a handgun -- $99 for a Glock valued at several times that, Kight said.

Kight reported his findings to the county agency that runs the program, the Office of Human Resources. The county itself launched an investigation. So did the inspector general, Thomas J. Dagley, who earlier clashed with that same agency over the county's troubled police officer disability program.

Dagley released his findings Monday afternoon. He drew three conclusions:

  • Lack of management oversight and inadequate internal controls enabled county law enforcement officers to purchase pistols and rifles for personal use that appear to have been subsidized with county funds.
  • Management didn't monitor whether law enforcement officers took training classes while being paid for duty.
  • County government departments and its Ethics Commission haven't taken enough action to ensure that employees and training companies are in compliance with ethics, personnel and procurement regulations.

The county government administration, in a response to the inspector general's findings that were included in his report, took exception to his conclusions or said it was already addressing the issues.

The administration has acknowledged the discounted guns may have been subsidized by tuition assistance funds. But that was because a key company in question -- Applied Sciences for Public Safety -- deceived and defrauded the county into allowing it to happen, wrote Timothy Firestine, a top aide to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

Even so, Firestine wrote, the county has strengthened its internal controls and management oversight of the program.

The county has filed a fraud lawsuit against Applied Sciences, seeking $400,800 in compensatory damages. The county administration said it is examining whether police officers took training classes while being paid, and the Police Department itself has been doing so since last year.

Firestine said that moneys paid to the companies don't fall within the county's procurement system.

"In essence, TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) is a type of compensation to employees and the employee decides whether to access this fringe benefit. TAP funds that are used for a degree program are taxable income to the employee. TAP funds that are used for non-degree programs that are job-related are a non-taxable fringe benefit to the employee. Hence, the TAP Program is far removed from the county's procurement system, which governs the acquisition of service, goods and construction, by the county."

-- Dan Morse and Michael Laris

By Christopher Dean Hopkins  |  March 8, 2010; 5:12 PM ET
Categories:  Michael Laris , Montgomery County  
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The council spends its time spending money, despite the deficit, looking for votes in November, rather than looking for fraud, waste and abuse. That is why we need Robin Ficker on the council. His property tax relief measure passed with 200,000 votes despite opposition from all the council members.Unlike the council, Robin will spend time looking for waste.

Posted by: aginther | March 9, 2010 6:13 AM | Report abuse

Dan and Michael are not completely accurate that the 'TAP' is a non-taxable fringe benefit. If TAP funds are used to subsidize the purchare of a firearm at at less than fair market value, it would not qualify as a tax exempt fringe benefit. The rules are explained in Chapter 12 of IRS pub 970. TAP funds can not be used for courses involving 'sports, games or hobbies' and be non-taxable. These amounts would be subject to withholding and employer matching taxes.

Posted by: Jayhawk72 | March 9, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

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