AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Watchdog report: Government travel cards used at casinos, strip clubs

Thank you, taxpayers, for providing a worker at Warner Robins Air Force Base with money for his entertainment needs during his jaunt to a Nevada casino. Four times the Georgia worker used his government travel charge card to withdraw money from a casino ATM in the gambling resort community of West Wendover, getting $1,500. He tried to make another nine withdrawals, totaling $2,363, but they were declined. Not to worry how the money was spent; the Air Force civilian employee said he didn't use it to gamble. He assured it went for food and drink while he attended car races, shows and local events while he was 150 miles away from his official travel location. That was good enough for HR, which didn't take any action. By the time a government watchdog found out, something called the Employee Relations Board said too much time had passed to do anything about it.

He wasn't the only Department of Defense cardholder to try to tap taxpayers for such expenses, according to a new report from the department's Inspector General. In one year - from July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014 - Department of Defense cardholders made 4,437 transactions totaling almost a million dollars at casinos. Another 900 transactions for about $100,000 were made at "adult entertainment establishments." All were likely for personal use, the IG concluded. Air Force cardholders led the way, with more than 1,800 transactions at casinos and 347 at adult entertainment venues. Marine cardholders trailed the other services, with just 290 casino and 67 adult entertainment transactions.

How'd they slip by? The Defense Department didn't have any policy to identify high-risk transactions, and Citibank, which supplied the cards, was not required to notify it of potential fraudulent activity. To be fair, Citibank did flag a cardholder - a senior airman from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina - when it detected potential fraudulent activity. Citibank noticed three purchases totaling about $5,000 at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club in Nevada. But the airman told Citibank the transactions were valid. Later, he fessed up that he used the card to pay for the club's VIP room for himself and several friends.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.