Recreation and Parks investigation uncovers Sam's Club card misuse

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October 16, 2006

Big taxes.

And they were all made on the City of Augusta's Sam's Club cards.

But now, leaders want to know why it didn't go through the right channels.

It's all new information that came out today in the city's Recreation and Parks investigation.

The city's purchasing director says she only authorized two Sam's Club cards, but says 22 cards ended up in the hands of Recreation employees.

Tonight, city leaders want to know how it happened.

"The policy of Augusta Richmond County states that no one is authorized to open any account without prior approval," purchasing director Geri Sams told News 12.

But she says that's what was happening.

She told city leaders Monday that it wasn't until Sam's Club called her office to say they were suspending the city's account because of an outstanding balance that she realized more than 20 Rec. employees were making unauthorized purchases. She says they were then sending the bills to a P.O box, and then those bills were taken to accounting for payment without even passing through purchasing.

"This is taxpayer money," said Augusta commissioner and mayor pro tem Marion Williams. "You can't have 22 Sam's Cards and purchasing don't approve 20 of them."

Department head Tom Beck and his office manager Marilyn Newton say they were not aware of this.

But city leaders wanted to know if employees were using the city's tax-exempt status to purchase personal items.

"If an employee wanted to take a few items that they had gotten and take them home, the possibility exists," Beck said. "You have to depend on the integrity and honesty of your employees."

Now the Commission subcommittee is investigating what was purchased and who signed up for the accounts.

"Every rule in our policy has been broken, and if you're not going by the policy, then you are doing what the heck you want to do, and it's time out for that," Williams said.

"The policies and procedures for Augusta are in place, and persons who circumvent these, then the commission, the mayor, and the administrator need to look at it," said Sams.

Since this all came out, those cards have been taken back. Right now city leaders are looking into whether those purchases were actually city purchases.

It is illegal to use the city's tax exempt status for personal items.