City of Charlotte: CATS contract employee stole $50,000

sharrison@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

The city of Charlotte says an employee with its contractor who handles the paperwork and money for Lynx fines embezzled $50,750 collected from the citations.

BERT FOX — bfox@charlotteobserver.com

If you ride the Lynx Blue Line without a ticket, you could get slapped with a $50 fine.

But over a two-year period, the city of Charlotte says an employee with its contractor who handles the paperwork and money for the fines embezzled $50,750 collected from the citations.

Central Parking, the contractor, and a city audit discovered the problem, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating, according to a police report.

The Charlotte Area Transit System and Central Parking signed an agreement Jan. 6 in which Central agrees to refund CATS the money.

Olaf Kinard, director of marketing and communications for CATS, said the company will make the transit system “whole.”

He said CATS has moved to collect fines in-house to avoid a repeat of the alleged embezzlement.

“We no longer use them,” Kinard said. “Now you go to the transit center and they take the fine. We receive it, we record it. We have a list of all citations that are issued.”

In the Jan. 6 agreement, Central Parking does not admit to any wrongdoing.

Central Parking, which was acquired by Chicago-based SP Plus in 2012, said it recognizes “our responsibility to protect our clients’ revenues as a core accountability, and will always stand behind that commitment.”

It’s unclear how the alleged embezzlement worked. A CMPD report from August only says “the suspect was responsible for accepting payments ... and converted the (CATS funds) for personal use.”

The amount alleged to have been stolen is substantial, at least when compared with how much CATS receives from fines. The transit collected just under $39,000 from fines in fiscal year 2013.

CMPD said Thursday no arrests have been made.

City Attorney Bob Hagemann said the city’s Department of Transportation has used Central to handle parking fines for several years. If a person receives a ticket and wishes to challenge it, they can go before a review panel of Charlotte residents who don’t work for the city or the contractor.

A person also can appeal the citation to Superior Court.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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