Anti-Fraud Official Faces Fraud Probe

May 1, 2007 9:42pm

A senior government official is under investigation by a congressional committee for allegations he engaged in "widespread fraud, waste, and abuse" — the same misbehavior he is supposed to ferret out. Johnnie Frazier, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is said to have rigged contract bids for cronies, fraudulently charged the government for improper travel, wasted tens of thousands of dollars on an erstwhile office remodeling and may have destroyed files that were proof of his wrongdoing, according to accounts given to lawmakers by current and former employees. As his department’s senior investigator, Frazier is supposed to "detect and prevent waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement" at Commerce, according to his office’s Web site. In an April 27 letter to Frazier announcing an investigation into his office, House Energy and Commerce Chairman John. D. Dingell,  D-Mich.; ranking member Joe Barton, R-Texas; subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich.; and ranking subcommittee member Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., detailed a wide range of allegations they had received from whistle-blowers in his department. The lawmakers requested Frazier provide them with documentation related to the allegations. A woman who did not identify herself answered the phone Tuesday evening at a number listed as belonging to Frazier. When ABC News explained the purpose of the call, the woman responded, "He’s not going to want to talk about that." Before hanging up, she asked ABC News not to call back. In a statement to the media, Frazier’s office said it was "cooperating fully" with investigators. According to the congressmen, Frazier is alleged to have repeatedly charged the government for excessive and unnecessary travel unrelated to government duties, allegedly including trips he told people were really to find post-governmental employment. Whistle-blowers said that Frazier gave a retirement bonus as a wedding gift to a former employee who was marrying another member of Frazier’s own management team, the lawmakers wrote. The congressmen also said Frazier allegedly ordered another senior official to prepare fraudulent application material on behalf of a "pre-selected candidate" to justify the hire. In another instance, they say Frazier allegedly told a subordinate to prepare job descriptions for senior-level positions to ensure that only certain of his friends would qualify. Frazier also allegedly improperly arranged for a no-bid contract for $150,000 to go to a company that was connected to a retiring member of his staff. The lawmakers relayed allegations that Frazier had the walls in his office torn down to create an "open floor plan" and ordered modular cubicle furniture for the space.  But when his special assistant "complained about having to work in a cubicle," he allegedly ordered the walls rebuilt. The combined cost for converting back to the original work space was alleged to be a high as $100,000, according to whistle-blowers. The lawmakers said they were particularly troubled that Frazier, a seasoned career investigator, is alleged to have destroyed, altered and tampered with evidence during the course of an official investigation into some of the complaints. "It is alleged that one or more of your staff assisted you in deleting e-mail messages from your computer after an [Office of Special Counsel] investigation [into allegations of retaliatory behavior] had already begun," the men wrote. Current and former employees also told the committee members that individuals were seen in Frazier’s office possibly deleting documents, in particular relating to his travel, according to the letter. In the past, some Democrats have considered Frazier, who served under President Bill Clinton, to be one of President Bush’s better choices for an agency inspector general post. While criticizing the White House for appointing partisans to such investigative offices, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., cited Frazier as an exception. "Johnnie Frazier worked for 21 years at the Department of Commerce IG office before President Clinton appointed him Inspector General there," Waxman noted approvingly in a 2005 report. A committee spokeswoman told ABC News Tuesday evening that they had not yet received a response from Frazier. Photo is courtesy of the Department of Commerce.  This post has been updated.

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