Letter: Questions abound over parking scam
September 25, 2014
Questions abound over parking scam
An accountant who stole more than $600,000 from his or her employer could be certain he or she would be spending years in prison if caught. In fact, several Aspen-based accountants have been sent away for steeling far less. Yet the city of Aspen seems willing to gloss over the loss of such a sum by its parking department. The citizens of Aspen should ask for a full accounting. Exactly who in the city knew about it and when did they know about it?
One very disturbing finding is that city Manger Steve Barwick evidently knew that batches of tickets were being purchased on a single card. Barwick told the council he was not surprised. According to the article in the Sept. 24 Aspen Times, by Karl Herchenroeder, "Barwick told the council that in some cases a driver used one debit card to purchase multiple parking tickets. Barwick assumed the tickets were then handed out to friends, employees or co-workers." If true, this is an astounding admission.
Mr. Barwick did not say how many times this occurred. If it occurred often, it was surely a red flag that a fraud was being perpetrated on the city.
Mr. Barwick also apparently stated that personnel changes were occurring while the fraud was taking place. I am curious as to how much time long personnel changes require. Aspen lost $227,000 to the fraud in 2013 and $448,000 in 2014. Does it take more than eighteen months in Aspen to make personnel changes? The length of time hints at incompetence at the top.
However, I find it hard to square the "personnel change" explanation with the fact that Mr. Barwick knew people were buying bunches of permits. This suggests he knew more than he has admitted. To ask an old question, "When did Mr. Barwick know of the fraud and what did he do about it?" One should also ask: Were one or more individuals working for the city involved?
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Someone should also ask why the city did not arrange a sting. If the city knew, as Mr. Barwick states, that individuals were buying "batches" of permits at a single location, it could have arranged surveillance and identified the scammers. I have a suspicion that those in City Hall did not want take such action, fearing friends would be legally trapped. Better to write off the losses and ignore the scam.
These questions can only be answered by a full and complete outside investigation. The city cannot investigate itself; no organization can. There must be no cover-up. The city should hire an outside investigator who does not live in Aspen or Pitkin county. The investigator should be given full powers to interview city employees under oath. The results should be made public.
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