The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
VRE welcomes state probe of operations
BY SCOTT SHENK
Virginia Railway Express officials say a state review launched because of anonymous allegations is unwarranted, but they welcome it and want operations to be in the open.
They also expressed support for two employees named in an Oct. 3 letter from Gov. Bob McDonnell calling for the review of VRE management by the state’s inspector general and the auditor of public accounts.
The governor’s letter said there are “internal control issues,” involving VRE employees. The letter also questions the “legal construct of VRE” and the Operation Board’s authority.
VRE board members and staff are being interviewed as part of the inquiry.
The issue came to light this week after Fredericksburg City Council member and VRE board member, Fred Howe mentioned it at a council meeting, He said he was going to be interviewed as part of the inquiry.
The governor’s letter says numerous sources made several allegations, mentioning VRE employees Sirel Mouchantaf and his wife, Jennifer Mouchantaf. He is VRE’s director of engineering and construction and she is the company’s Equal Employment Opportunity officer.
Howe talked about the situation at the VRE board’s monthly meeting Thursday.
He first praised VRE and its service. Then, he did the same for Sirel and Jennifer Mouchantaf.
Howe said they have his full support and that he “doesn’t agree with everything in the letter.”
“I have full faith” in them and VRE, he said again after the meeting.
He added the inquiry could be a good thing for VRE.
Fellow VRE board member and Stafford Supervisor Susan Stimpson said the inquiry is needed.
She tried in August to have an independent audit launched for fiscal year 2011, but the VRE board voted against it.
Stimpson primarily based her concerns on a former VRE employee who had pleaded guilty to taking subcontractor kickbacks after he was snared in an FBI investigation.
“We already know there was a problem,” she said. “Internal controls weren’t working somewhere.”
Stimpson added that she thinks VRE is a solid organization. The inquiry “is not an indictment of VRE at all,” she said.
But she said an outside audit is the right thing to do.
Doug Allen, VRE’s CEO, and spokesman Mark Roeber said that the issues raised in the governor’s letter were thoroughly dealt with after the allegations were raised a year ago.
VRE’s board Chairman Wally Covington wrote a letter to Gov. McDonnell this week in which he explains how the VRE handled the situation.
In the letter, he says the board “took those unsubstantiated allegations seriously and conducted an examination as well as a forensic audit to make sure that all aspects were addressed.”
State auditors from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation also looked into the issues.
Allen said those inquiries into the allegations found no wrongdoing.
He also said the current review is looking at VRE’s organizational workings and not individual allegations.
Allen and Roeber believe the state’s review will show that everything is fine at VRE.
Sirel and Jennifer Mouchantaf, who Roeber said did not want to comment, still hold their same positions at VRE.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436