Taxpayers footed the monthly bill for SANDAG personnel to enjoy filet mignon, other upscale eating

SANDAG workers dined at Rei Do Gado, Donovan’s steakhouse and the U.S. Grant Lodge. 1 professional identified as the transactions a “clear abuse” of public funds.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Personnel at the San Diego Affiliation of Governments pulled out their personnel credit history playing cards hundreds of situations to pay back for meals, frequently at upscale eating places and with costs topping out at extra than $100 for every visit, an inewsource evaluation of the regional organizing agency’s records reveals.

A the latest inside audit at SANDAG now flagged questionable buys on the credit rating cards, together with “unallowable” rates at regional places to eat. But receipts and transaction logs now display that taxpayer-funded cafe visits were being a common observe for some of the agency’s optimum-compensated workers.

Workers dined at sites these types of as Rei Do Gado, Donovan’s steakhouse and the U.S. Grant Hotel cafe, reporting the meals as small business conferences in company data. Whilst workforce ate with fellow staff members, they also were joined at situations by elected leaders, other government officers, board members, consultants and lobbyists.

One specialist known as the transactions a “clear abuse” of community money.

“Perception is anything, and impression,” reported Sean McMorris, transparency, ethics and accountability plan supervisor at authorities watchdog team California Widespread Lead to. “If you are viewed as a corrupt agency or an company that abuses taxpayer resources, then it takes awhile to rebuild your track record and rebuild trust in just the group.

“That’s why these scenarios are so terrible.”

Auditors very last month found staff charged just about $70,000 at local dining establishments around a 4-calendar year period, and practically $250,000 on non-working times. The “vast majority” of expensed meals transpired in San Diego County, meaning they weren’t affiliated with travel, according to the report.

inewsource requested receipts and supporting files that have been reviewed less than the audit.

Officials have been not able to provide a complete of costs that have been thought of improper mainly because documentation to demonstrate purchases was missing.

One illustration that inewsource found: CEO Hasan Ikhrata charged approximately $100 in Could 2019 at Small Italy’s Craft and Commerce but unsuccessful to submit an itemized receipt. A transaction log claimed that he and a staffer attended a dinner conference with a San Diego Fuel & Electrical Co. govt.

Ikhrata, one particular of the agency’s most regular spenders at eating places, billed $17,000 in meals in excess of approximately two years and mostly at firms in the county. In some months, Ikhrata experienced frequented restaurants with an agency credit score card much more than a dozen instances.

His out-of-town visits brought some of the most expensive restaurant expenses. With four other SANDAG officers, Ikhrata billed extra than $700 in September 2019 at the significant-profile Occidental Grill in Washington, D.C., which includes branzino for all people at the desk, appetizers and entrees this sort of as a $52 “feature meat” dish and a just about $50 filet mignon, between other things.

The assembly was shown as a company dinner.

Ikhrata, whose income and benefits total far more than $580,000, has headed the company given that late 2018.


Auditors warned that spending for worker foods generates added complications, since the IRS considers them to be taxable fringe positive aspects. Between their suggestions is right away halting the use of credit rating cards at nearby places to eat.

In a statement to inewsource, SANDAG mentioned it normally takes “our economic duties very seriously.” Employees are examining past transactions and will decide irrespective of whether “any remedial or corrective action” is important, the agency said. It did not say regardless of whether SANDAG has stopped personnel use of credit history playing cards at eating places.

“It is extremely important that we are very good stewards of community funding,” SANDAG’s statement claimed. “In partnership with the Independent Effectiveness Auditor, we have taken rapid corrective actions to fortify our procedures and offer the clarity and transparency wanted to carry out the agency’s business enterprise in assistance to the individuals of the San Diego location.”

Typical Cause’s McMorris stated taxpayer-funded meals are appropriate when general public personnel are conducting reputable organization, but that potent guidelines are necessary.

“I really don’t assume it is really a negative detail that they have cost accounts,” he explained, “but if you can find no guardrails in location, then of course, abuse can and probable will happen.”

Eduardo Luna, a retired auditor who worked for the town of San Diego for a lot more than a decade, told inewsource that organizations have to have extensive insurance policies and typical analysis. SANDAG really should think about a policy that presents clarity to when publicly funded foods are correct for its workers, he reported.

“You have to supply training to workers, you have to be highlighting abuses when things are not proper and items are falling via the cracks,” Luna said.


SANDAG said Wednesday that officials are drafting company meals and hospitality insurance policies.

Numerous board customers have named for the agency to examine motion in opposition to workers who misused playing cards, such as probable self-control. Carlsbad Mayor Matt Hall and county Supervisor Joel Anderson just about every despatched letters to the agency’s administration subsequent the audit, stating the agency should really seek out reimbursement for any poor prices.


Hall said SANDAG would like to raise taxes to fund future transportation assignments, nonetheless its “credibility is harm when it cannot demonstrate it has skill to handle taxpayer funds.”

The company has given that diminished its number of cardholders, and SANDAG Main Economist and Deputy CEO Ray Major advised the board it strategies to carry out all of the audit’s tips.

“I sit here before you to dedicate to you that we will employ these new processes to conquer the deficiencies that we have in our current techniques,” he claimed.

Officials are envisioned to present the board with an updated plan on the credit score playing cards later on this thirty day period.

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