PAHOKEE, Fla. -- The city of Pahokee is investigating after an inspector general report questioned the use of gas cards and credit cards by Pahokee city employees.
Pahokee Mayor J.P. Sasser said he believes city employees are stealing gas and putting it on the taxpayer's tab, essentially siphoning funds from one of Palm Beach County's poorest cities.
The 22-page inspector general report shows only eight people have gas cards to fill up at a Palm Beach County gas station on State Market Road in Pahokee.
You can download the 22 page report by clicking here : http://bit.ly/MTS0Lo
Sasser said he believes some of those eight card holders are using them for more than city cars.
"Do I think there was fuel theft going on? Hell yes," Sasser said. "But I don't think it's a crime ring."
For 19 years, Father John Mericantante of St. Mary's Catholic Church has served two things, the Lord and the people of Pahokee.
"We have eviction notices that we help with," Mericantante said. "We have people with electricity shut off. The rent is due, kids are in jail."
Father John does all he can do to help by providing dental care and food in an area that desperately needs it.
"We give 250 meals out a week so it's about 1,000 a month and we make sure they only come once a month because that's how bad the food situation is," Mericantante said.
That's why Mericantante is struggling to accept alleged misuse of city funds.
The inspector general report shows that from October 2010 to March 2012 the city paid for 33,440 gallons of both unleaded and diesel fuel.
The report said it cost $110,962.
The report later states that 21 percent of those transactions were questionable due to fuel cards being used on more vehicles than it was assigned to -- vehicles with broken odometers along with frequent incorrect odometer readings such as "100,000 miles."
"It's very disappointing," Mericantante said. "Very disappointing because it hurts everyone."
According to Sasser, the issue goes beyond waste.
"You would hear about guys filling up city equipment then filling up their girlfriend's equipment and their wife's car, their buddies car," Sasser said. "That's been going on for years and years."
But he also blames the city.
"Unfortunately every attempt by city hall and management in city hall to gather some type of control politics got in the middle of it," Sasser added.
Realizing a flaw in the current system, city leaders are working on a new policy.
"The problem has been it's been too 'loosey goosey' so I'm not pointing the finger at anyone right now," Sasser said. "When I'm going to start pointing my finger is after we have developed a strong policy and then it's not adhered to."
Mericantante said he just hopes the only free stuff is going to those people who need it the most.
"You can't make a law that they can't break," Mericantante said. "I just hope that they do keep the law."
The city continues to work on changes to the fuel card policy, which they expect to be finalized in a month.
As for the questionable credit card use, they've already made changes there and the report says the control over those are adequate.
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