Second week of fraud trial underway
More details have emerged about Shepherd University officials’ spending patterns during the trial of a former administrator accused of charging nearly $86,000 on a state-owned purchasing card for personal items and services.
While cross-examining state fraud examiner Tim Butler, defense attorney Shawn McDermott introduced bank statements of 50-year-old Elizabeth “Libby” Shanton’s co-workers, revealing they too spent thousands on meals and lodging with their state purchasing cards. Shanton is currently on trial for 53 counts of misuse of a state purchasing card and one count of fraudulent schemes.
The statements revealed that Rachel Meads, co-worker in the student activities office, spent roughly $5,000 in meals-double of what Shanton was estimated to have spent-between June 2011 and August 2012. Butler testified that he reviewed Meads’ purchases in order to establish a “baseline on the types of purchases” made by individuals with their job description.
“We were given a report from Shepherd to analyze this individual (Shanton) and the purchases she made,” Butler said. “We did a cursory review of Ms. Meads’ purchase in order to see what types of purchases were being made in this department, but we were focused on Ms. Shanton because that’s who the report was about.”
While McDermott focused on Shanton’s and Meads’ meal purchases in the Shepherdstown area during that time period, he always asked Butler whether or not “there was a culture of buying hospitality meals during trips at Shepherd”-which is forbidden by state policy and rules, according to Butler.
“Here’s the problem, hospitality is an all-inclusive term that relates to any meal purchase short of eating meals while an employee is on a travel status,” Butler said. “In the case of a university, it can mean anything from catering a student event to a president having dinner with a visiting dignitary.”
Butler continued, “There’s been opinions and comments from the state ethics commission that if an employee is in travel status, they are given a daily meals allowance and they should not be taking third parties out to breakfast, lunch or dinner. Charging meals to a state purchasing card is not allowed, either.”
Butler testified that when he reviewed some of Shanton’s “questionable” purchases with Shanton’s supervisor, Tom Seager, Seager told him that the purchases had “no programic value.”
“After Seager told us that, we had to forward it to the Commission of Special Investigations, and step back because we have rules and policies that do not allow us to interfere with an ongoing investigation.”
Shanton’s late July and early August 2012 stay in New York City during a conference was part of what sparked the review of her state purchasing card spending, according to Butler. Butler testified that one issues was the expense of the hotel room she rented. However, McDermott introduced a bank statement that revealed Seager had spent $1,375 during a stay at a Hilton in Baltimore for a conference.
“I’ve never been to Baltimore so I don’t know the relative prices there for a room,” Butler testified, “I’m sure there would’ve been more affordable places.”
The trial resumes today at 9 a.m.