MIAMI — In April 2009, a janitor sweeping Miami-Dade Transit's office made a startling discovery: In an empty cubicle on the 16th floor of the county's Overtown Transit Village complex, the cleaner found wads of cash totaling $9,863 and old checks for $14,772.
The former employee who had occupied the desk, Jeffrey Bechdel, helped run the county's seven-day Visitor Pass program, which sold weekly passes for bus and Metrorail. For 2 ½ years, before leaving Transit in January 2009, he stuffed the sale proceeds in his desk drawer. ``I'm a lousy bookkeeper,'' he later told police.
Police pegged possible losses at $120,000, but the staffer wasn't criminally charged. The reason: There was no evidence he stole, and investigators determined the agency was riddled with administrative flaws, including failing to create a system to deposit money from the pass sales.
"It was like they didn't want to bother with me,'' said Bechdel, adding that he never took any money nor was asked by superiors about where the money was going.
It was a sign of deeper woes.
Miami-Dade Transit is now under federal regulators' microscope, and at the heart of the inquiry are concerns about financial controls at the county department slated to spend more than $800 million in operating and capital costs this fiscal year.
In November, the Federal Transit Administration took the extraordinary step of suspending grant payments totaling some $182 million to Miami-Dade Transit. The FTA cited concerns about the ``effectiveness of internal controls,'' including improper accounting of bus fare boxes and a failure to document how federal dollars are spent.
Since the funding cutoff was first disclosed in The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, county officials have scrambled to reassure Wall Street rating agencies that Miami-Dade's massive bond program remains financially solid.
Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami-Dade Republican who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the transit agency's latest woes further tarnish its image in Washington, D.C., making it tougher for him to advocate for funding.
"It does have an impact on their credibility,'' Diaz-Balart said. "They need to clean up their act. We've made that point time and time again.''
The impasse, which could drag on for several months, follows allegations within county government of misconduct and incompetence. It includes the charge that county leaders misled federal auditors, according to more than a dozen interviews and hundreds of internal documents, including memos and e-mails.
Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com