AUSTIN, TX— Randall Whited is charged with first-degree felony theft for allegedly stealing more than $1.3 million worth of printer toner from the Austin Public Library.
The Office of the City Auditor says Whited began stealing from the Austin Public Library as early as 2007. That was the year he was hired as an Accounting Associate. The accused theft went unnoticed for more than a decade. That was until the auditor’s office received a tip that that Whited had been stealing printer toner in March 2019.
Brian Molloy, Chief of Investigations for the Austin City Auditor’s Office, said this is the biggest fraud investigation the city has seen.
“It’s probably the biggest fraud investigation the city audit has had by about two folds.”
The investigation into Whited took longer than a year, according to Molloy.
“It took a few months to get the definitive proof he was stealing toner. We were trying to figure out how we could measure what was appropriate and what necessary.”
The moment of truth came one morning at 6:45 A.M. That was when security cameras caught Whited in the library putting toner in his car.
The Office of the Austin City Auditor released an investigative report. Evidence was found that Whited bought at least $1.3 million worth of printer toner by using library issued credit cards. He then resold it online.
Whited had access to ten credit cards and was responsible for buying supplies for the library. This included printer toner. According to the auditor’s report, eight of the cards were vendor-specific. Two were assigned directly to Whited.
After reviewing the purchasing history of the credit cards the City Auditor’s office found that Whited had bought at least $1.5 million in toner alone. This was between the dates of October 2007 and July 2019. Usage information suggests that the APL would have needed no more than $150,000 worth of toner during that time frame.
The report cites:
“The library’s poor practices and procedures provided an opportunity to Whited to steal from the city during his tenure.”
How was he allowed to do this without anyone noticing?
He was allowed to approve his own purchases, and he had insufficient oversight from his supervisors. Two of Whited’s former direct supervisors are no longer working for the library.
Molloy tried to speculate what happened with those who were supposed to supervise Whited.
“They gave up on doing their job or just rushed through it and that’s how he got away with it for so long. Shockingly, it was missed. It’s shocking that it was missed by multiple people, there wasn’t just one person approving his purchases.”
Investigators found spreadsheets detailing who he resold the toner too. According to the report, Whited mailed 60 packages of toner to an online seller over just four days in October 2017. The vendor confirmed the sale to investigators. However, he did not disclose how much money Whited had received for the toner.
When investigators spoke to employees at other APL branches, they said they haven’t received new shipments of toner in several months. The report said that they had “very little” on-hand.
The report detailed other alleged misuses of city credit cards by Whited.
He reportedly used city credit cards to buy at least $18,000 worth of items that appeared to be for personal use. The majority of it, $15,000, were consumer electronics like video games, virtual reality headsets, robotic vacuums, and a drone.
The report says between February 2017 and July 2019, Whited used city credit cards to buy more than $140,000 of items. Investigators said due to poor inventory practices and inadequate purchasing records by APL they couldn’t come to an exact amount.
However, the supervisors missed many obvious clues that Whited was robbing them blind. Whited frequently shipped items directly to his home address. His supervisors did not appear to notice the budget for office supplies had quadrupled.
The library’s office supply budget was about $50,000 per year. But between 2015 and 2017, the library dramatically overspent in this department. Investigators found that in 2015, the library spent more than $242,000 on office supplies.
Former Financial Manager Victoria Rieger was one of Whited’s direct supervisors. The City Auditor noted the following in the report:
When asked whether this four-fold spending raised any concerns, Rieger said she was not concerned if individual categories were overspent, as long as APL’s overall budget was not overspent. Also, Rieger stated that she would not look for overages unless something was “out of whack.”
McBee, who oversees the Library’s financial services division, said that she does not conduct budget monitoring and noted that is the job of her finance staff. She said that if there were significant budget issues, she “assumed [Rieger] would tell me.”
Whited shipped items directly to his home address. Receipts that listed his home and personal email address were all approved by superiors. Reiger told investigators:
“She did ‘not recall ever seeing receipts with [orders of] supplies, and ‘just approved’ the transactions.”
Rieger confessed that she did not look for shipping addresses during her review of transactions. The reason was that she did not know the addresses of all the library branches. The auditor included in the report that Whited was able to approve his own purchases.
When asked to respond to the report, Whited did not respond. The report says:
“The Office of the City Auditor referred the issues to the Austin Police Department “due to the potentially criminal nature of Whited’s actions.”
Whited was booked into the Hays County Jail on a theft charge on September 22, 2020.
Whited was arrested a year after he had resigned from the APL. He resigned in 2019. He was going to be terminated for an “unrelated issue,” but quit instead.
The City Auditor’s office referred the case to the Austin Police Department after completing the investigation. Travis County court records showed the indictment against Whited was filed on September 8, 2020. The arrest warrant was executed on September 22, 2020. Whited was arrested and booked into the Hays County Jail. Inmate records on Vinelink show he was released the following day.
Bill Hines, attorney for Whited, said:
“We are investigating the allegations and evaluating all options under these difficult circumstances.”
Austin Public Library Director Roosevelt Weeks said the library appreciates and accepts the findings of the investigation. He noted that this information will help the library make changes. Weeks said:
“We take fraud, waste, and abuse seriously, and while participating in the investigation we began taking immediate steps to address systemic deficiencies… We have updated our purchasing operations and strengthened internal controls to eliminate opportunities for fraud and waste.”
The APL response to the theft was to make a lot of changes. Some of them included reducing the number of employees who have access to the City of Austin credit cards, eliminating store-specific credit cards for office supplies, limiting the use of third-party payment platforms, and increased monitoring.
“I believe these changes will prevent individuals with ill-intent from being able to take advantage of the internal control systems in the future, and ultimately result in a more robust program for protecting the City’s assets and the public’s money.”
That's a unique theft https://t.co/YT9TEJMacN
— 102.5 The Bone (@1025TheBone) October 7, 2020
Whited had an extensive criminal history dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. He was arrested and convicted of several charges of theft and burglary of a building.
Whited has been arrested on theft charges before. A search of online records on InstantCheckmate by Heavy.com shows Whited was arrested in October 1984 for “theft by appropriation” and larceny. In September 1985, he was convicted and sentenced to six months probation.
Whited was arrested on July 30, 1985, for burglary at a “non-residence.” February 28, 1986, he was busted for burglary again. He was arrested for aggravated theft of an item worth more than $750 on January 24, 1989, and another on November 19, 1993. Whited was convicted in both cases.
Yet, city records obtained show Whited passed a criminal background check.
He is listed in those records as having “Financial Responsibility” credentials. This allowed him to use city credit cards. A city spokesperson said employees must not only pass an initial background check, but also checks every two years to maintain that status.
The spokesperson said criminal background checks consider convictions in the past 10 years. This is why Whited’s past convictions weren’t considered. They explained no convictions were shown throughout Whited’s five background checks during his tenure at the city.
The city spokesperson said:
“The City of Austin is a reentry friendly employer. In 2008, the City banned the criminal history box from its employment application, and in 2016 the City committed to being a Fair Chance Hiring employer.”
The Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance aims to reduce recidivism and unemployment for people with a criminal conviction. This helps allow qualified job applicants with criminal histories to have a chance at employment.
A board member with local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership said there are many success stories of people trying to reenter the workforce after a conviction. The successes outweigh the failures. This makes fair hiring efforts invaluable, despite people like Whited taking advantage of the situation.
KXAN’s Avery Travis spoke with several Austin residents were shocked when they heard the allegations made in the audit report.
Lawrence Billimek said
“It’s sad, and I don’t know how it went uncovered or undetected. That’s the kind of thing that there should be checks and balances to protect, and so it’s unfortunate. The fact that we all pay so much in property tax, it’s even more sort of insulting, you know?”
The biggest question that many people asked, according to Travis, was: “Why didn’t anyone notice these alleged actions sooner?”
The city’s Purchasing Officer said they’ve learned from the incident, and will work on “additional measures” to prevent fraud from happening.
“While any incident like this is regrettable we are reassured by the Auditor’s conclusion that the issues associated with this individual were not identified elsewhere in the City. We want to assure the public that our purchasing card program is a safe and valuable business tool for the City.”
Molloy says the next steps for the auditor’s office are to follow up on any disciplinary action that needs to be taken from the city side.
Whited is set to be arraigned October 13th
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