Ch-a-a-rge It!

You thought there was a problem with Broward credit cards? Get this.

Three departments are supposed to oversee the cards' use: Bean's office, the purchasing department, and the auditing department. Directors of all three agree that the credit cards were introduced in January 1999, though there is no documentation to show when employees were first allowed to use them.

Cummings says he and his staff drafted a set of rules and regulations about the same time that would have prohibited county employees from buying anything that did not relate to county business. The purchasing agreement, which employees are required to sign, stipulates that receipts for all purchases must be turned in to a direct supervisor, who is then to pass on the receipts and other paperwork explaining need. Once the agreement is completed, employees have a green light to charge up to $250 each day. "Here and there, we had occasional misuse," Bean comments.

Mark Poutenis

Cases of "occasional misuse" came predominantly from employees at Port Everglades. None of them would talk to New Times about the purchases. Port spokesperson Ellen Kennedy would say only, "This is an incident we understand happened a few years ago, and we've not had any cards revoked since."

On June 18, 1999, the first two cards were taken from assistant crane engineer Arnold De La Cruz and storekeeper Elizabeth Joyce. Billing documentation shows De La Cruz bought about $3800 worth of office furniture and tools. Joyce charged about $2600 in office furniture, including an executive leather chair priced at $400.

Almost a year later, on June 15, 2000, four port employees lost their cards because they "split" purchases that were apparently job-related, including phone installations. ("Splitting" means spreading the cost over more than one day for items exceeding the daily charge limit.) All together, 13 county employees tried to evade the no-split charging rule. It was relatively innocent. Most of their charges appear to be relevant to county business.

But others used their cards to make less defensible purchases. For example, Information Systems Manager Lydia Mokos charged hundreds of dollars for merchandise, including unnecessary computer equipment, at Radio Shack and other electronics stores.

Around the same time that port workers' cards were being pulled, Purchasing Director Cummings noticed something unusual on Office Manager Rickie Parker's card statement. Cummings wrote a memo to Public Communications Director Judy Sarver on June 14, 2001 requesting that Parker's card be revoked. "Mr. Parker has shown evidence of splitting purchases on more than one occasion," the memo stated. Parker allegedly couldn't explain why he charged more than $5000 to the county to buy items from IKON Office Solutions and various art and software supply stores.

Broward County Fire Rescue Capt. Gregory Holness purchased more than $1000 worth of merchandise at Ted's Sheds in Fort Lauderdale (which sells gazebos and storage buildings), about $80 at a fabric store, and $666 worth of groceries at Publix.

There were far more outlandish charges. According to county documents, on December 17, 2001, Alfredo Gonzalez, director of leisure sales and marketing at the Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, paid his personal-property tax bill, which came to $2235.86, with his county credit card. A copy of a personal check for that amount dated December 31, 2001, signed by Gonzalez to reimburse the county, is included in his accounting file. His card was revoked January 16, 2002.

Albert Tucker, vice president of multicultural business development for the tourism bureau, had his card pulled January 28, 2002, after he spent $1129 on what Bean's office classifies as "personal" items, including a rental car. In a memo written January 17, 2002, to a supervisor, Tucker explained that he used his card to procure hotel rooms for county clients. "While I felt these [purchases] might have been appropriate use of the card, I now realize it was incorrect management of the card."

Tucker tells New Times that the county didn't take his card but that he volunteered to give it back. He blames miscommunication between himself and Bean's office. "We are in the tourism area, so we bring clients in all the time," he says. "They come in for a visit, and we pay for that. I've secured rooms for five clients before with the county credit card, and during those times, my card wasn't processed. It was only used as a hold. This time, it was processed. It was legitimate."

He rented the car, he says, to "ensure his availability" to clients because his own vehicle was in the shop.

Despite his claim that he did nothing wrong, Tucker says it "wasn't worth the aggravation" of keeping the county card. He paid back the money for the rental car. "I knew there were other people around using their card for whatever and if it even looked like I did, that was going to turn out bad," he says. "But sometimes, we're in a position where we have to use that card for business. If I have to secure a room for someone, what else can I do?"

Unlike the credit-card pilot program that Bean outlined to New Times, not only did directors of county agencies receive cards but lower-level county employees had them too. At the end of the pilot year in 1999, the county performed an audit, Bean says. "Based on that, we felt we should go forward by expanding the program, giving directors of different departments more freedom." Lower-level employees obtained cards at the discretion of their supervisors.

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