The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Call for VRE audit rejected
BY SCOTT SHENK
The Virginia Railway Express operations board chose a new CEO Friday, but that news took a back seat to the FBI investigation into a former VRE employee and calls for an independent audit of the commuter rail service.
The board spent most of Friday’s meeting mired in talks about whether it needed an independent audit after Susan Stimpson, a member of the VRE board and the Stafford County Board of Supervisors, called for one.
The Washington Post first reported on the FBI investigation, sparked by an anonymous email alleging kickbacks for maintenance contracting work.
The former employee in question was the facilities manager. VRE fired him in January.
Spokesman Mark Roeber said VRE has been cooperating with authorities and that they want the situation to be resolved.
He said VRE initially contacted Alexandria Police after receiving the email. The police department, he said, found that the situation “was outside of their scope and jurisdiction.” The FBI then took over the investigation.
The investigation is focused on a company the former employee owned that allegedly was tied to a subcontractor doing maintenance and custodial work for VRE.
Roeber said the investigation doesn’t involve VRE.
“One rogue employee isn’t an indictment of VRE,” he said.
Stimpson, however, thinks an outside auditor should look into the company’s financial workings.
She made a motion during Friday’s meeting to bring in an independent auditor, but it failed in a nearly deadlocked vote. Members with the Northern Virginia jurisdictions voted against the motion, while Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford members voted for it. Kevin Page, CEO of the Department of Rail and Public Transportation, also voted for the motion.
During a discussion of bringing in a third-party auditor, VRE board member Christopher Zimmerman, who represents Arlington County, said they should instead let the FBI investigation play out.
Stimpson later said that misses the point.
“There may be a satisfactory explanation,” she said of her concerns with VRE’s financial oversight. “But I want to ensure that we have the proper controls and procedures in place.”
Part of her concerns center on a VRE audit report completed in November.
According to the Post, the report included a handwritten note stating that officials had “no knowledge of fraud or suspected fraud involving VRE.” The paper reported that the issue in that case involved an earlier potential contract problem unrelated to the FBI investigation.
In the months that followed the 2011 audit, Stimpson said, she asked the board several times if they could get some kind of clarification from the auditor, PBGH.
“Still haven’t heard from them,” she said.
Stimpson can’t understand why other board members are against having an independent audit.
“We already know something wasn’t working correctly,” she said, pointing out the employee who was fired and adding that there are other potential issues being looked into. “Let’s identify it and fix it.”
Roeber said he doesn’t know of any other investigations into financial issues.
He did say in the Post story that state and federal authorities are looking into possible misuse of taxpayer money.
Following Stimpson’s failed motion on Friday, the board went into closed session and interviewed CEO candidate Doug Allen, a public transportation veteran from Texas.
Following the lengthy closed session, the board voted to recommend Allen as the new CEO.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission and the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission, which oversee VRE, must approve Allen before he can become the new CEO.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436