An audit by the state of Ohio has found that former school superintendent Bart Anderson is responsible for $96,510 in unapproved travel expenses.
"I have never seen anything this breathtaking in scope by a single person," Auditor Dave Yost said. "This is a gag-inducing level of abuse of public money."
Anderson resigned from his position as superintendent of the Educational Service Center (ESC) of Central Ohio in February 2013 after the ESC had discovered he had cashed in on points earned using the ESC credit card, which he took for personal use.
A larger-scale investigation was quickly launched, where it was discovered Anderson had taken numerous trips without ESC consent. The ESC allowed Anderson to travel for meetings, trainings, conferences and seminars, but any other travel was supposed to be submitted for approval.
"Superintendent is a position of integrity and trust," said Ohio Auditor Dave Yost. "Not only is Bart Anderson on the hook for his abusive spending, but he has now lost those important qualities forever."
The audit, which looked at travel expenses from 2007-2011, discovered 112 unapproved trips by Anderson, including to Beijing, Thailand, Las Vegas, as well as luxury hotel stays at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City (at a rate of $799 per night), the Ritz Carlton and the Conrad Hotel in Chicago.
The audit also cited Anderson and warned the ESC to keep a watchful eye over employee spending when it became clear that Anderson had been altering receipts. While a previous auditor of the former superintendent had looked at his handwritten receipts, it was not until a second review that it became clear Anderson had changed them.
Travel expenses charged by Anderson totaled $485,097. He spent $152,811 on hotel rooms, $90,152 on meals, and $13,336 on alcohol. Anderson has repaid $12,747 so far.
Because of the massive number of charges over the five-year span, it is unclear how many of them were for legitimate approved trips.
"Beyond the finding for recovery for just under $100,000 due to no documentation, I think there's an open question here that we may never know the answer to – was any public business done for this half million dollars worth of travel," Yost said.
There was an additional $2,832 in charges that did not have any corresponding receipts, as well as $1,452 in credit card reward points that Anderson had redeemed, belonging to the ESC.
The ESCs are centers that work directly with schools districts to help students gain career and advanced course credit. The centers also provide schools with substitute teachers, special education services and other resources.
"These are the resources that should have been going to the kids," Yost said. "Instead, they were going to fund a lifestyle."
In response, the ESC has changed the way it does business. Credit cards are no longer issued to employees, all travel must be pre-approved, and only four employees who hold a key can access the financial records room.
Anderson has been referred to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien for criminal charges, as well as to the Ohio Ethics Commission.