When city workers request fraudulent reimbursements, it’s buyers beware

Anonymous tips led city management to take action in six cases during the second half of 2018

Calls haven’t slowed down to the city of Sacramento’s anonymous whistleblower hotline.

That was the message from city auditor Jorge Oseguera at the start of December, when he told the City Council that, between April 1 and September 30, the hotline received 85 new tips. Of them, Oseguera said his team was able to substantiate six “related to potential fraud, nepotism, compliance with city codes and inappropriate use of city resources.”

While Oseguera didn’t elaborate much on the complaints during his presentation, a 12-page report he prepared detailed all of them. The most serious substantiated tip, deemed of medium priority, was that Department of Utilities employees were submitting “fraudulent receipts to receive reimbursement for personal protective equipment.” The department director fired eight employees, who had improperly collected a total of $5,000.

The other five substantiated tips, all deemed low priority, included a city vehicle speeding on Fruitridge Road and a city employee advertising a personal business through electronic city resources.

During a presentation on the report, frequent council critic James “Faygo” Clark questioned why the city is consolidating the independent budget analyst position into the auditor’s office if the whistleblower hotline has so much activity. Clark noted that the auditor’s office had already complained about having insufficient staff to address all the whistleblower tips.

“Help them be able to actually address it in a more productive manner,” Clark said.

Nevertheless, Councilman Steve Hansen praised the existence of the hotline, saying, “It has yielded, I think, a greater trust knowing that there’s a place for people to anonymously report tips.”

Oseguera maintains that the hotline is a deterrent that keeps city employees walking the line.

“It makes them question whether to engage in those [wrongful] things in the first place,” Oseguera said. “We have addressed some serious issues.”

In all, the hotline has received approximately 1,000 tips since being implemented in 2012.