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Auditor breaks down Utah’s worst abuses of taxpayer money

A Duke University has been accused of extorting an estimate $200 million out of the federal government through fake research. (Photo: Pixabay)

Fake flights, $50,000 in video games, and trips to Victoria Secret. Those are just a handful of some of the abuses of taxpayer money that Auditor General John Dougall says that Utah’s government employees have been committing.

On the heels of a scandal at Duke University, where a professor was caught extorting an estimated $200 million out of the federal government by falsifying research data, KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic invited Dougall to share how taxpayer money is misused in our state. Scandals like this one, Dougall revealed, aren’t as uncommon as we’d like to think.

Auditor John Dougall on Utah’s worst abuses of taxpayer money

John Dougall State Auditor

John Dougall’s state auditor seal. (Photo: KSL TV)

“There are billions and billions and billions of dollars of grants that are out there,” Dougall says. “Some people look at that as if it’s free money.”

As Utah’s auditor general, he has to be vigilant to make sure the government is checking every dollar it’s spending is being used appropriately. But sometimes, those scams manage to slip through the cracks for a while before they can catch them.

“We saw one individual who worked for the state traveling for about ten years, and it looks like most of that was fraudulent travel,” Dougall told Dave & Dujanovic. That employee, he says, would file bogus hotel invoices and flight tickets into management just to the pay-out.

“Management wasn’t even knowing where he was going,” Dougall says. “They were basically accepting: ‘Oh, he’s submitted these invoices, and we just pay them.'”

It’s far from an isolated incident. Dougall described cases when single employees would buy multiple computers, tablets, and Apple Watches and charge them all to the state, or even new automobiles.

“We’ve seen purchases from Victoria Secret. We’ve seen $50,000 in video games by one individual,” Dougall says. “We have one individual — they spent $180 on a pedicure-manicure. Who was approving that?”

That approval, Dougall believes, is the heart of the problem – that the people in charge of government spending aren’t doing enough to make sure these purchases are legitimate. Management, he says, is often just too trusting of their employees and will sign off on anything without checking if it was legitimate.

“When you’re supposed to review a transaction or approve travel, it’s not just for your autograph,” Dougall says. “You’re actually supposed to ask those questions. Is this reasonable? Is this appropriate? Is this a good business transaction?”

Dougall has done his best to crack down on wasteful government spending. People trying to taking advantage of the system, however, are an inevitable part of human nature. Dougall says he tells every management team and governing board he audits that the best thing they can do to protect themselves is to make sure they’re doing their due diligence on every expenditure request.

More to the story

John Dougall shared a whole list of taxpayer money abuses. If you missed every story he had to share live on the air, you can still catch everything he had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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