PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - Some Punta Gorda city workers are in hot water. They traded in city scrap metal and used the money for themselves, buying up thousands of dollars in electronics.
The practice has been going on for years. Utilities employees even had a name for it: "The Brass Fund." They'd take old non-working brass plumbing parts, trade them in for cash, and spend the money on things for the department. According to city's Human Resources Manager Paul Wickstrom, they banked $1,300 just in the last few months.
A television, DVD player., washer and dryer...all paid for by the "Brass Fund."
"When they would go to repair a job, the old scrap metal that came out of the ground, they would take the material, strip it down to its individual components, and they would take it to the scrap yards," Wickstrom said.
The problem is, rather having the scrap yard cut a check to the city, everything was done in cash. According to the report, some used the money to buy work boots or pay for pizza parties and barbecues. Others were encouraged by supervisors to pocket the money for themselves. Wickstrom says there's no "allegedly" about it. They did it.
"This was a practice probably put in place 30-35 years ago going back into the 70s," Wickstrom said. "Up until this point, they thought they were doing something that was condoned by their supervisor."
But it's a practice that's definitely not condoned by the city. Once officials got wind, they launched an investigation. "During the course of the investigation, it became apparent that some answers weren't truthful," Wickstrom said.
Because they lied, two employees were let go. One of them had been with the city for more than two decades. Several others were suspended.
"We recognized that we couldn't go back and undo 35 years worth of practice. Obviously from a city's perspective, that's not okay," Wickstrom said.
No one at the Utilities Department was able to comment at this point in the investigation. The city does not plan to take any criminal action against the two employees let go, since the practice has gone on for so many years.