Annual fraud and waste audit reveals unauthorized marriage, government vehicle abuse – Daily Montanan
An annual report by the Montana Legislative Audit Division on waste, fraud and abuse within the state government recorded an increased number of hotline calls and 15 incidents of theft or suspected theft in fiscal 2022, including one involving employees of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks hosted a private party at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.
Citizens and State Government employees are encouraged to report instances of fraud, waste or abuse via a toll-free hotline, online portal, email, SMS or even a letter.
The audit found that more than half of the fraud schemes uncovered in the United States come from reporting employees within the organization. Additionally, organizations that have hotlines or other means of reporting and detecting fraud have lower fraud rates.
Montana auditors have calculated that they spent more than 529 hours investigating nearly 100 complaints. The 98 reports received by the hotline represent an increase of 75 percent compared to 56 reports in 2021.
The number of hotline reports increased, but the number of times an agency reported a theft or suspected theft to investigators, as required by state law, fell from 23 to 15 over the same period.
Montana State University reported more than half of the self-reported calls, including theft of computers, signs, a personal charge on a state-issued credit card, and the theft of a “bronze Bobcat statue.”
The auditors also noted that the increase in calls to the hotline was due to a number of people calling to report cases where the Legislative Auditor “didn’t have jurisdiction”.
“For example, allegations of fraud from recipients of public assistance have been referred to the Department of Public Health and Human Services; Reports of workers compensation fraud have been referred to the Montana State Fund,” the report said.
The auditors also said that while complaints about staffing-related issues have declined, they still represent the largest body of submissions, including complaints about paying exorbitant speaker fees, abuse of office space and abuse of teleworking arrangements.
A lead also led investigators to discover that a private wedding was taking place at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park during the off-season when the park was closed to the public.
Also, the park is not a public wedding venue.
“The wedding couple were current FWP employees who previously worked at Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park.”
The auditors found that there was limited communication between the department and those coordinating the wedding and as a result there were no policies and procedures in place to protect the park.
“These included the lack of permits with a set fee structure. As a result, park staff adjusted and waived park fees for the wedding couple and their guests. We found this to be a waste of resources,” the review said.
The couple were “granted unsupervised access to the caverns and operated the lighting system unsupervised”.
Although the couple had rudimentary knowledge of the system, the report states: “Possible damage to the lighting system included relay switches that had to be reset and the use of expensive backup batteries left on for extended periods after the wedding. We have determined that this is an abuse of the state park.”
The auditors recommended that FWP develop permits and policies for marriages, but ultimately the department told the auditors that weddings were still not allowed there.
“The park employee in charge of oversight and oversight has since resigned to pursue other avenues,” the report said.
Montana FWP chose not to comment on this particular case when contacted by the Daily Montanan.
1,700 (uncounted) miles
Investigators determined that a Montana Department of Justice employee used a state-owned vehicle for personal use. The investigators found that the employee had been granted a temporary permit to use a government vehicle, but it lasted longer than the agreement.
“When reviewing the fuel card usage data, we were unable to account for approximately 1,700 miles of vehicle usage,” the auditors noted.
And the vehicle could not be inspected because the state had sold or “overbought” it “due to high mileage”.
“The department has acknowledged the lack of proper documentation and the use of the state vehicle,” the inspection report reads. “The department said they reprimanded the employee, instructed them to reimburse the state for use of the car, and received the reimbursement.”
The Montana Department of Justice did not respond to requests from the Daily Montanan for an interview about the incident.