MARTA investigates misappropriation in IT department

MARTA has hired an auditor to conduct an internal forensic investigation of “asset misappropriation” of the Information Technology department.

MARTA General Manager Keith Parker told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday the current investigation focuses on the management of contracts in the IT department. There was no allegation of anyone embezzling from the authority.

Missing money “is not what we’ve heard of up to this point,” Parker said.

Records obtained by the AJC show the head of the IT department has before run afoul of MARTA contracting rules.

MARTA Assistant General Manager Ben Graham was fired in 2001 as the manager for network engineering for repeated unauthorized procurements despite admonishments not to do so. But MARTA records also show other aspects of Graham’s work were rated “excellent” and he was eventually rehired.

Michael Sloan, who was MARTA’s chief counsel in 2001, said Graham’s procurements put the transit authority at risk for lawsuits because it eventually had to reject the purchases or services he made since Graham did not have the authority to make them. He described Graham, a retired Marine warrant officer, as the “go-to-guy” who “worked his butt off” but who did end runs to get things done.

“The issue wasn’t that he didn’t have the the best interests of the authority at heart,” Sloan said. “Nobody accused him of doing anything inappropriate other than violating our procurement rules.”

Despite a recommendation at his termination that he not be rehired, the authority took him on as a contract assistant general manager in 2006. In 2007, he was promoted to AGM for Technology and Chief Information Officer, according to MARTA records. Sloan said at least some board members had pushed for his rehire.

While details of the suspected misappropriation are not listed in the letter, former general mangager Richard McCrillis noted that the department has been slapped in the past for losing laptop computers. In an management audit released last year, KPMG found that IT was one of the MARTA departments ripe for outsourcing because of high spending.

The letter authorizes as much as $100,000 in payments to KPMG for the investigation, excluding out-of-pocket expenses.

Graham, if only because he is head of the department being investigated, is the second top-tier executive at MARTA to come under scrutiny this year. Earlier this month, Robin Howard, AGM for audit, resigned after being indicted on charges of embezzling as much as $50,000 from a professional association he headed in Virginia.

Howard, 45, had been at MARTA for just over a year.

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