City workers caught shopping, going home, and running their own businesses

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by Jeremy Rogalski / Investigative Reporter

khou.com

Posted on October 9, 2012 at 10:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 10 at 10:53 AM

HOUSTON -- Instead of fixing our streets and flushing our sewers, dozens of City of Houston workers were falsifying time sheets and running personal errands, according to an I-Team analysis of personnel records.

They all work for the Department of Public Works and Engineering, which calls the behavior dereliction of duty and theft of time.

It’s your time—because it’s on your taxpayer dime.

I-Team cameras caught meter reader Marcus Este on the clock, but not on the job one afternoon. He sat in a drug store parking lot for 20 minutes near Irvington and Calvacade in Northeast Houston. From there, he drove his city-issued pick-up truck around and around, in and out of neighborhoods, and up and down the same city streets. Este spent another 20 minutes parked at a gas station, then proceeded to drive around the I-610 East Loop to the Gulfgate Mall. There, he spent a half hour inside a grocery store.

A short time later, it was quitting time for the day. The I-Team approached Este and asked “Is this what taxpayers deserve?” He didn’t say a word.

But DPW spokesman Alvin Wright is talking.

"Unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable," Wright said.

“The public demands and expects our employees to be accountable, and so we feel an obligation to make sure that that occurs," he said.

The Public Works Department is turning to technology as an enforcement tool. Since last summer, it’s been secretly installing a GPS tracking device on some city cars to monitor those it suspects of wrongdoing.

The crackdown has caught a couple of dozen employees in the act.  Records show some went shopping on the city clock--places like Academy, or Target to "look through the CDs."
 
One employee said he went to Burlington Coat factory to use the bathroom. But GPS logs show he was there for 53 minutes. Others went home on the taxpayers' dime, like inspector Steve Garcia. Records show he went to his residence 21 out of the 23 days he was monitored, often making multiple trips home the same day.

I-Team: "Does the public deserve better?”

Garcia: “Yes the public does deserve better.”

I-Team:  “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Garcia: “Well I apologize, I was totally wrong."

Garcia told us he was checking up on his ailing wife, but even so, the city fired the 27-year veteran.

"I was in violation of city policy and I truly am sorry for what I did," he said.

Where did other city workers go? GPS tracked Field Supervisor Carlos Ramos to an auto auction. Records show he was bidding on cars for a side business he owns. The city did let Ramos go, but still on the job is the man you've been paying to take care of his horses.

That’s right, records show utility worker Keith Perkins admitted going to his stables for the last two to three years, two to four times a week, and up to three hours at a time.

Neighbors were shocked.

"Whoa! Wow, that's pretty bad," said one man.

"They should be out working, doing what the city is paying them to do," added Terry McKnight.

Instead, the city defines it as stealing or theft of time, and a Public Works spokesman who said workers often falsify daily activity sheets to cover up their misdeeds.

"We encourage our citizens, if they see our employees not functioning in a proper way like they're supposed to--record it, give it to us and we'll take action," Alvin Wright said.
 
And as for the man we caught on tape goofing off, he took off and drove away.

So what happened to Marcus Este? Was he fired or suspended?

No. He was given verbal counseling.

In other words, don’t do it again.

 

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