Cannon: Indictment of GSA senior exec highly unusualBy Ryan McDermott October 1, 2014
Senior executives rarely face criminal charges for fraudulent travel expenses like the ones a former General Services Administration official was indicted on last Thursday, a former Air Force deputy general counsel said.
Normally an agency will quietly ask the executive to pay back what it owes the government, but the DOJ won’t use its resources to pursue criminal charges, said Cheri Cannon, who worked as the Air Forces’ deputy general counsel for fiscal, ethics and administrative law until January.
Cannon now works with Tully Rinckey, a law firm that advocates for federal workers, but is not involved in the case of former GSA senior executive Jeff Neely.
Neely was indicted Sept. 25 on charges that he submitted fraudulent reimbursement claims and made false statements.
He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each charge for his alleged part in the 2012 GSA conference that triggered investigations from both Congress and the inspector general.
“I haven’t heard of a case of a big government official like this since Abramoff,” Cannon said. “Normally, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says they aren’t going to pursue it and the that the agency should pursue it administratively.”
Cannon said agencies generally don’t even get far enough to refer the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but rather send a letter to the employee or former employee to collect the money owed to the government for fraudulent travel expenses and not take criminal action.
“The cases that do get referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I’m telling you, the answer is: it’s not enough money and it doesn’t have enough sex appeal,” Cannon said.
The DOJ will likely get a plea in this case, Cannon said, and the government will get its money back.
“That’s standard practice,” she said. “U.S. Attorneys all over the country won’t take these cases.”
With the pressure from Congress to quell conference spending after several overspending scandals at the GSA and other agencies, GSA was likely looking at all the executives involved with the 2012 conferences to find a charge that would stick.
“My guess is they went to all of these guys with a fine-tooth comb and they came up with this,” Cannon said. “He wasn’t the only senior executive involved in the conference spending scandal.”