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Politics & Government

Allegheny County Controller Says Fitzgerald Misused County-Owned Vehicle

Jessica Nath
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner is accusing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald of mishandling thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds by using his county-owned vehicle for personal purposes.

At a news conference Thursday, Wagner said she sent Fitzgerald a letter instructing him to send her staff accurate documentation so they can determine how much he must reimburse the county. She said his office would have to determine how they would reimburse the funds.

"It may be as much as $13,125 or more," Wagner said. "We are now working to determine the specific figure so that my office may recover all misused taxpayer funds.”

A spokeswoman for Fitzgerald said they only heard about this issue and request for information after the controller's news conference had started.

“We’ve submitted these for three years to the controller’s office, and we followed the precedent the prior executives and prior commissioners had done," said Amie Downs, Allegheny County communications director. "This is the first that anything’s been brought to our attention, and they brought it to our attention by holding a press conference.”

Credit The Associated Press / file photo
Rich Fitzgerald

According to Wagner, Fitzgerald used his car inappropriately on at least 100 occasions, ranging from a trip to Greene and Westmoreland counties to campaign for candidates to traveling to and from the airport to attend the Democratic National Convention.

“Under county law, no employee is permitted to use county resources including, specifically, motor vehicles for any purpose other than county business,” Wagner said.

But Downs said that is not the case.

"He [Fitzgerald] works 24/7, 365 days a year promoting the county, whether it’s in Allegheny County or outside of the county, and if there are issues with paperwork that need to be addressed, he is going to have staff look into this,” Downs said.

Wagner said she also uncovered that Fitzgerald failed to report 19,556 miles of use on his Jeep Grand Cherokee. She said the car has a total of approximately 150,000 miles on it.

“Additionally troubling to me is that Fitzgerald has omitted nearly 20,000 miles used on the vehicle,” Wagner said. “That has been verified by cross reference to fuel card usage, the documents he submitted — which were inaccurate — and a current odometer reading of his vehicle.”

Just a few hours after Wagner's news conference, Downs said the executive's office had still not received the full report, but said if anything is amiss, it will be addressed.

“If she believes that there are miles that were on the vehicle that weren’t properly attributed to the event or issue  the executive was doing, obviously the county manager and chief of staff will look into that and will respond appropriately, but without having that information or details, it’s really difficult to respond,” Downs said.

The controller’s office used tweets from Fitzgerald’s Twitter account to verify the dates, times and locations of Fitzgerald’s political activities.

Wagner said she sent a letter explaining the alleged misuse to District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Attorney General Kathleen Kane, U.S. Attorney David Hickton and Director of the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission Robert Caruso.

She said by law, she must immediately report to law enforcement agencies all suspected misuse of county funds.

“I think the facts speak for themselves,” Wagner said. “He is required as any county employee to submit accurate documentation and to follow the laws of the county, so under my responsibility as county controller, it’s my duty to be the fiscal watch dog.”