HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania State Capitol Police was formed in 1895; the second-oldest state police organization in the United States.
Its primary role is to protect state-owned buildings and the people working in them. The department also has jurisdiction over Capitol Complex parking spaces and has the authority to write tickets.
But it’s Capitol police being cited for failing to properly follow the money or follow its own procedures.
On a recent afternoon, there were numerous cars with parking tickets flapping under their windshield wipers. How many of those $5 parking tickets did Capitol Police write in previous years over a several year period? How much money did it take in? Sources tell ABC27 that the accounting was so bad, auditors have no way of knowing.
Our investigation began on June 3 when ABC27 cameras caught Pennsylvania State Police taking a computer and other items from Capitol Police. We’ve since learned that the computer removal came after the civilian employee in charge of parking tickets and fines abruptly retired from the Capitol Police just as the auditor general began looking at the books.
“That’s absolutely a red flag,” said John Sancenito of Harrisburg-based INA Investigations. Sancenito spent much of his career as a police detective and now advises companies on how to avoid fraud. He says law enforcement is not immune.
“They should be, but unfortunately, the reality is that policing they do well, accounting they do not,” Sancenito said.
And in this case, Sancenito says the accounting and oversight were clearly lacking. Between 2012 and 2016, sources tell ABC27 that hundreds of blank tickets and thousands of dollars are unaccounted for. After the abrupt departure of the woman in charge, Capitol police couldn’t even get into their own safe as she was the only one with the combination.
“It’s a complete lack of oversight if only one person has the combination to that safe,” Sancenito said.
According to Capitol Police policy obtained by ABC27, oversight of the parking tickets and collected fines falls to the deputy superintendent. That job is currently held by Kevin Brown.
Policy states that Brown, four times a year, must make sure the ticket clerk was maintaining a log of all tickets and depositing collected fines at least once a week. There was to be a daily balance sheet and the deputy superintendent is to review and verify it.
But those checks and balances built into the official policy apparently didn’t happen for years. ABC27 has learned that when the safe was finally opened, more than $2,000 in cash was recovered along with checks that were never cashed and are now expired.
“When you have a situation where you have one person who has complete control of bringing in the money, accounting for the money, and then there’s nobody coming in and a second set of eyes on that, that’s asking for some type of misappropriation to occur,” Sancenito said.
But was a crime committed? That’s still unclear. State police confirm they are still investigating the civilian ticket manager that left. Taking money is against the law, but bad bookkeeping is not.
“That always becomes a difficult thing when you have a lack of records,” Sancenito said. “It’s always hard to recreate the crime, if you will.”
Oversight within the Capitol Police was clearly lax, but oversight of the Capitol Police is also in question. It falls to the Department of General Services, which is responsible for purchasing goods and services for the state and managing its buildings and real estate. General Services oversees billions of dollars in transactions ever year, hopefully better than it was watching the 5-bucks-a-pop parking tickets.
DGS would not allow employees to respond on camera but said in a statement that it took the issue seriously and moved quickly to fix the problem.
“Procedures have changed in response to the discovery of these issues to prevent them from occurring again,” DGS spokesman Troy Thompson said.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is expected to issue his own statement on the matter next week.
It should be noted that the men and women of the Capitol Police are not under a cloud. They are not allowed, per policy, to handle any parking ticket money. The issue, as DePasquale is expected to highlight, is a severe lack of oversight and internal accounting controls.