California School Official Stole $14 Million, Prosecutors Say
December 4, 2023
The senior director of fiscal services at the Magnolia School District in Orange County, California, embezzled more than $14 million over seven years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged.
Jorge Armando Contreras was charged with a felony of embezzling from programs receiving federal money, and was jailed without bond, The Orange County Register reported.
Contreras allegedly using the money to pay $1.9 million to American Express, transferred more than $130,000 to a person he would later marry, bought a BMW SUV and withdrew $325,000 in cash from ATMs.
He also allegedly used some of the money to pay $190,000 to a West Hollywood dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon and to buy Versace and Louis Vuitton luxury items, prosecutors claim.
Contreras wrote more than 260 checks to fictitious people — ranging from $11,000 to $95,000 — that were deposited into his personal bank account, according to the charges.
The school district official changed documents to hide the embezzlement, and some of the money was transferred to bank accounts in Mexico, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors allege in 2020, Contreras bought a house in Yorba Linda and paid for more than $1 million of it through a wire transfer from a personal bank account. He also allegedly changed bank statements for a loan application to hide the embezzled funds.
Now, the district is trying to recover and freeze about $4 million of the federal funds that were stolen. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said 81% of the children in the school district are classified as socio-economically disadvantaged, so the district receives millions of dollars in federal funds every year.
How a person could steal $14 million over seven years with no one noticing means the district should have more checks in place and Contreras should never again be trusted with other peoples’ money.
49 Agencies Don't Report to USASpending.gov
December 5, 2023
The website USASpending.gov is the official source of federal spending information, showing details about each federal award such as contracts, grants and loans.
But a report from the Government Accountability Office that found that 49 federal agencies didn't report their spending to the site.
The GAO noted the federal government has provided about $4.7 trillion to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that inconsistent reporting means it can’t be tracked by the public properly using the website.
There were 103 agencies that did report, and of the 49 agencies missing, GAO said it's unclear which are required to report.
“Although many nonreporting agencies may not be required to report, neither the Department of the Treasury nor the Office of Management and Budget have clear responsibility for determining which agencies are required to report,” the GAO report stated.
The GAO recommends that Congress consider amending the DATA Act and that OMB provide guidance to help improve data reporting.
“Until Congress assigns responsibility to Treasury and OMB to periodically assess and determine which agencies must report data to USAspending.gov and oversee the completeness of their reporting, the USAspending.gov data may lack some required spending information.”
Besides those missing, some agencies reported different spending figures than those in their budget and annual financial reports, the GAO report found.
For example, in its FY 2022 agency financial report, the Department of the Treasury reported its COVID-19 obligations as $195 billion more than that it reported to USAspending.gov. The Department of Transportation reported amounts that differed by $10 million, the GAO found.
“Without OMB and Treasury guidance to help agencies ensure that information reported to USAspending.gov is consistent and comparable with other public sources, the transparency and use of USAspending.gov information may be questioned.”
Without accurate reporting, users don’t have the ability to track federal spending, including for $4.7 trillion of Covid aid.
$11 Million EPA Program Lacks IT Control; Ex-Employees Still Had Access to Database
December 6, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have proper systems security in place, allowing former employees to access one of the databases for an $11 million program, according to a report from its Office of Inspector General.
The EPA Inspector General conducted an audit of its Integrated Risk Information System database to determine if it adheres to federal and agency access control requirements, finding that it didn’t. That program “is a chemical evaluation program under the Office of Research and Development and is a critical component of the EPA’s capacity to support scientifically sound environmental regulations and policies,” according to the report. “The program supports the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment by identifying and characterizing the health hazards of chemicals found in the environment.”
The EPA’s Office of Research and Development operated with a $574.4 million budget in FY 2023, with an estimated $11.3 million allocated to the program. Agency personnel estimated $127,000 of the program’s budget was used for its database application, the report found.
The Inspector General found that information technology access management for the database did not adhere to federal and agency IT access control requirements.
It found that 64% percent of the database general user accounts had access to the application “without a legitimate business need,” including having the accounts of two former employees remain active for eight months after they separated from the EPA.
The EPA also didn’t implement password configurations for database server accounts, “which caused inactive accounts to remain in an active status for an unlimited time frame, use the same password an unlimited amount of time, and reuse a password sooner than allowed.”
The audit found that the EPA ran the database without being included or identified in a system security plan that would ensure that the system’s security met federal standards.
The agency skipped basic security steps that even Gmail users must participate in, let alone people with access to federal government databases worth $11 million.
Light Show, ‘Passageway To Other Worlds’ Malfunctions, Confuses
December 7, 2023
In February 1982, The National Endowment for the Arts gave a $7,000 grant — almost $23,000 in 2023 dollars — for a sound and light show at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin — that drew a small crowd, malfunctioned and confused visitors.
For this wasteful spending, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the endowment a Golden Fleece Award. He gave awards to wasteful and nonsensical spending, eventually handing out 168 Golden Fleece Awards between 1975 and 1988.
The event sponsors used 16 loud speakers and a complex lighting system on the evening of Dec. 21, 1981 to turn the state capitol into a “geometrically-tuned instrument which will bring together and send forth humans and planetary energies in a message of world peace.”
According to the description offered to the participating artists, for 9 hours, time-delayed voices saying “ocean” will be sent through the speakers outside of the capitol dome, and at each hour, there will be a 12-minute live performances of spoken and sung languages, coinciding with “heightened energies resulting from the rotating planetary influences of the Winter Solstice.”
“The capitol building is located on the site of an ancient mound which once was part of a giant zodiacal wheel used by ancient tribes in rites combining the energies of earth and space,” the description says.
“It is hoped that the new combination of sound frequencies and colors will vibrantly interact with the magnetic energies intersecting at the capitol mound. The building will become a giant energy pyramid, spiraling “The Tongues of Light” put into the universe to join with other voices — past, present and future — as a message of peace and hope.”
Because the capitol is a “geometrically-tuned instrument, with a capacity to send or receive space/time communications,” it’s a “passageway to other worlds.”
It would’ve been waste enough had this worked, but the operation malfunctioned.
The newspaper The Wisconsin State Journal reported that a sparse crowd showed up for the Winter Solstice event and were intrigued by the “seal-like undistinguishable sounds humming from the dome.”
The show “provoked a sigh of disappointment rather than a gasp of awe,” and two of the four lights didn’t function, and the two remaining lights were white, rather than colored.
“Most participants undoubtedly left more confused than inspired,” the review stated.
Proxmire scoffed at this funds being spent on such a silly event. “After funding this event in Madison, will the National Endowment for the Arts go on to fund cult rituals, hippie-happenings and exorcism events?”
Michigan Could Use Broadband Funds For Paintballing, Monster Trucks
December 8, 2023
The $1.5 billion that Michigan is getting for high-speed internet service is meant for places like libraries and community centers, but private companies including a trampoline park, a monster truck rally center, a Hell-themed paintball facility and 13 NASCAR or drag-racing speedways could be getting funds as well.
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is allocating the $42.5 billion for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program to the states.
In its guidance, NTIA states that the funding should go to “gigabit connections to community anchor institutions such as libraries and community centers that lack such connectivity,” Citizens Against Government Waste reported.
It allows each state’s funding proposal to include its own definition of “community anchor institutions,” which are supposed to connect unserved and underserved communities.
In the Michigan High Speed Internet office proposal for how it will spend the money, it includes in its definition of community anchor institutions, 10 private zoos, five of which don’t meet the “standards for animal welfare, care, and management” required for accreditation. It also includes 75 stadiums and sports centers — including more than 40 that are privately owned, like major league venues including Ford Field, Comerica Park, and Little Caesars Arena, which offer free Wi-Fi at their own expense.
“The misuse of public funds to subsidize private recreational facilities, private zoos, and stadiums amounts to little more than corporate welfare,” CAGW said. “These businesses have funded and can fund their own broadband buildouts and expansions without taxpayer support. Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize these private, for-profit businesses and divert BEAD funds away from bringing broadband to unserved Michiganders.”
The #WasteOfTheDay is presented by the forensic auditors at OpenTheBooks.com.