Audit reveals “off-the-books” account used by vendors to pay Montgomery Co.

Nearly a year after Montgomery County, Maryland police reported they were investigating “possible financial irregularities” in the county school system’s transportation department, a new state audit offers details about what generated his investigation.

Nearly a year after Montgomery County, Maryland police reported they were investigating “possible financial irregularities” in the county school system’s transportation department, a new state audit offers details about what generated his investigation.

According to the September 2022 report from the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits, the Montgomery County School System’s own internal audit showed “questionable purchases” for gift cards, furniture and other items shipped to a home. anonymous transport manager.

The state audit also reports that Montgomery County Public Schools also uncovered an “off-the-books account” maintained by a transportation provider outside of the control of the MCPS finance office. The report does not identify the vendor, but says the account was used to make payments to multiple MCPS employees to purchase goods and services in a manner that was designed to circumvent “established policies and procedures.” of the school system.



After reporting concerns to Montgomery County police, MCPS hired an accounting firm in December 2021 to conduct an independent forensic investigation into the account.

This company reported that nearly $1.2 million was deposited into the “off-book account” and that approximately $649,000 in payments were made either directly to MCPS employees or for purchases of goods and services. services “allegedly on behalf of MCPS for the period between October of 2017 and November of 2021.” According to the report, an additional $535,036 remained in the account as of November of last year.

In November 2021, MCPS placed Todd Watkins, who led the school’s transportation department, and Charles Ewald, the vice principal, on leave. Both men are no longer part of the school system, but MCPS officials did not comment on their status, citing their own ongoing investigation. The Maryland Department of Legislative Services states, “One of the employees was subsequently terminated in February 2022 and the other resigned in March 2022.”

In February 2021, the county school board approved a $1.3 million deal with Highland Electric Transportation to begin the shift to an electric school bus fleet. The plan included swapping the school district’s combustion engine buses for the new electric vehicles. The stated objective was to have a 100% electric fleet by 2035.

The audit also revealed a number of issues related to the financial oversight of the school system, and the report lists a number of recommendations.

One of the findings was that MCPS contracted with an unnamed vendor for a school bus camera system “with no competitive procurement process or fixed total cost to pay.” The audit also found that the school system’s contract with this bus camera supplier “lacks sufficient detail” to monitor the amounts billed and paid to this supplier.

Another finding of the report showed that the school system did not always carry out inspections of construction projects or ensure that the necessary information was provided before making payments.

In the written response included in the report, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Monifa McKnight noted that the school system is audited “on behalf or on behalf of nearly a dozen other agencies” and that the company hired by the school system “did not reveal any material shortcomings”.

MCPS’s responses included statements saying it agreed with a number of the recommendations, and that in other cases the conclusions were “factually correct”.

In an email to WTOP, MCPS spokesperson Chris Cram wrote:

The investigation into this matter is, in fact, ongoing and we are aware of the details available in the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits report. A lot of work has been done by MCPS staff over the past year, including the hiring of forensic auditors and a significant amount of cooperative work with our law enforcement partners. Through this work, to date, MCPS has recovered over $800,000.

As a result of MCPS’s internal investigation, the school system said it had:

  • Identification of a new supplier for the purchase of buses.
  • Revised internal structures that oversee finance and procurement.
  • Review of acquisition card transactions.
  • Retraining provided for personnel holding an acquisition card.
  • Assessment of employee access to acquisition cards.
  • Reduced card purchase limits.

“The two individuals associated with this case no longer work for MCPS, but police may still pursue charges as part of their investigation. Because there is still investigation and work to be done, we cannot comment further at this time,” Cram said.

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