PA county controller claims county executive bilked taxpayers

By Rachel Martin | Watchdog.org

PITTSBURGH — Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner has accused County Executive Rich Fitzgerald of misusing taxpayer assets.

While defending himself, Fitzgerald seems to have come up with an elegant solution to future record-keeping problems.

In a Nov. 6 press conference, Wagner claimed Fitzgerald “misused a county vehicle for personal and political purposes, that has cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.”

DEVIL IN THE DETAILS: Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald was accused this past week of misusing his county vehicle for personal and political purposes.

“My office has identified at least 100 instances in which Fitzgerald submitted documents to the county, claiming to be on official county business but was in fact was charging taxpayers for his personal and political use,” she said.

Wagner said the amount may be as much as $13,000, and perhaps more.

Fitzgerald has devised a blunt strategy to deal with the contentious miles: on Wednesday he turned over the keys and a check.

He wrote a personal check for $42,737.52 to the county treasurer, having multiplied the total of every mile accrued since he took office by the current IRS reimbursement rate.

“To be clear, I am voluntarily reimbursing the county for every single mile driven in this vehicle since I became County Executive because I am committed to doing everything within my power to strengthen Allegheny County instead of focusing on responding to calculated political attacks,” he said in a statement.

You can read his full statement about turning over the vehicle here.

In a Nov. 6 press conference Fitzgerald said the allegations were “100 percent political. It’s all political … I guess by making herself look good or making me look bad.”

Last year, Fitzgerald referred to Wagner and himself as “political enemies” in a radio interview, after a snafu in which he ousted her from a holiday party he was hosting — not knowing his staff had apparently accidentally invited her.

Fitzgerald said he saves taxpayers money by not using a security detail, which he said he’s entitled to use, and not seeking reimbursement for meals when he’s out of town for business.

Fitzgerald also attacked Wagner’s work ethic, claims that aren’t new.

“This is a woman who never goes to work,” he said.

Fitzgerald talked about his ongoing work, throughout his days, and said “do I write it all down, where I go? No.”

Wagner has been thorough with her allegations. According to the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, letters were also sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office and the State Ethics Commission.

Wagner wasn’t immediately available for comment.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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