The Office of the State Auditor’s (OSA’s) website describes our current auditor, Suzanne Bump, as “the chief accountability officer for state government in Massachusetts and its residents.” The OSA’s enabling statute requires the department to audit all 700 departments and organizations of the government at least once every three years. Yet in her seven years as auditor, the OSA conducted only one audit of the Department of State Police (DSP), in 2011. When our state government watchdog failed to pick up the scent of DSP’s multiple scandals in Troops E and F, it was left to investigative journalism to enforce state accountability.
The OSA Didn’t Audit, So Troop E Ran Unchecked
In October 2017, Kathy Curran of WCVB-TV’s “5 Investigates” released a report questioning four lieutenants and one trooper who reported copious amounts of overtime for shifts in which they wrote no tickets and filed no reports. This led to a series of stories revealing 22 officers from Troop E who charged for overtime without actually working the shifts. Extensive investigation by the Boston Globe revealed that the practice “was widespread and took place over several years.” On the morning of June 28th, 2018, three officers from this troop were arrested for embezzlement and accused of collectively stealing almost $54,000 from taxpayers. By July 4th, a fourth trooper had pled guilty to embezzlement and 40 were being investigated by a DSP audit. The Boston Globe recounted that this wasn’t Troop E’s only recent scandal; a 2016 Inspector General’s report found troopers showed preferential treatment to one company when delegating tow company contracts.
The most recent audit OSA performed on the DSP, entitled “Department of the State Police’s Use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Funds,” was published in September 2011. The audit was limited in scope, reviewing the use of $5,368,142 from a federal grant. However, OSA told Pioneer that when they had “compared overtime payroll data for appropriateness and approval documentation,” they did so for all DSP payrolls (not just those funded by the federal grant). The audit found no issues in this payroll data, which included Troop E.
When Pioneer requested a copy of OSA’s most recent comprehensive DSP audit, we were told that one had never been done. They said it was impossible for their office to audit all aspects of a department simultaneously due to “limited resources”. A look at the OSA’s recent history raises the question: with 244 people on payroll in 2017, how many more would’ve been needed to catch Troop E’s corruption?
When the OSA Finally Audited, they Approved Troop F’s Payroll
Troop F was a different story, instead starting with OSA and ending in the news. On January 11, 2013, the OSA released an official audit report on the Massachusetts Port Authority. It’s important to note that unlike other State Police troops, Troop F was paid by Massport because it patrols the airport. The report’s audit objectives included “test[ing] a sample of administrative expenditures, including payroll…”, and concluded that “for the period July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011, Massport maintained adequate internal controls and complied with applicable laws… in the areas reviewed.” Pioneer confirmed with OSA that the audit included all Massport payrolls, including Troop F.
This 2013 audit did not detect that in 2010, Massport had stopped reporting Troop F payrolls to the State Comptroller, in violation of state law. Comptroller Thomas Shack and Governor Baker agree that the action was “deliberate”:
|“The action is deliberate. I can’t say that it’s nefarious, but I can say that someone had to make a determination at some point — either with the state police or elsewhere — that this information was not going to be provided to the comptroller,” said Tom Shack, State Comptroller.||“I think it was clearly deliberate for some reason. I don’t know what the reason was. It was 2010,” said Charlie Baker, Governor.|
As first noted by the Boston Globe, OSA also failed to note in their payroll review that Massport had been making per diem payments to members of Troop F on which they neglected to withhold taxes, in violation of federal tax law. The per diems began long before the 2013 audit, and continued through the audited time period. Massachusetts taxpayers may be charged substantial amounts for unpaid withholding taxes on these missed income disbursements. Troop F troopers made so much in overtime that Lieutenant Warren Yee sued the DSP for not assigning him there, “because it offered the opportunity to earn considerably more compensation than other posts.”
OSA exists to keep state funds safe from those with foul intentions. They must be one of the most dependable and diligent parts of state government, for when they fail, every citizen suffers. To see four scandals discovered by journalists rather than those whose job it is to protect taxpayer interests strongly suggests that the media is taking the place of a dysfunctional OSA. While Boston news outlets have plastered DSP corruption updates on their front pages, the singular official pledged to “make government better” has stayed distressingly silent. The Auditor’s website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed lack a single sentence acknowledging the DSP fraud revealed by the media. There is no explanation for why these scandals went undetected.
Taxpayers should be thankful for our reporters; they’re doing a great job. Specifically, the auditor’s job.
Kaila Webb is the Wellesley College Freedom Project’s intern for the Pioneer Institute. She is currently double majoring in Environmental Studies and Chinese Language & Culture.