City treasurer sub-contractor paid ghost employees, blackmailer

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by Maggie Crane / News 4

KMOV.com

Posted on August 21, 2012 at 9:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 21 at 10:33 PM

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- A sub-contractor for city parking has admitted in federal court to paying three ghost employees and the blackmailer who found out about it.  Now, News 4 has uncovered evidence to suggest someone might be working with her from inside the St. Louis City Treasurer’s Office.

The case has to do with who maintains the city’s parking meters and collects the revenue for them.  Federal investigators say the head of the company hired to do just that was involved in a series of scams.  Ultimately the costs were passed along to you, the taxpayer.

When parking meters break or the coins inside need collecting, the City Treasurer contracted Duncan Solutions to do it.  That company then hired Dankar Enterprise, Inc., owned by Danielle Welch-Benson, to do the day-to-day work.  That’s when the problems began.

In federal court on Monday, Welch-Benson admitted to padding the payroll by listing employees who didn’t exist or didn’t work.  She sent the bloated bills to Duncan Solutions, which was paid by the city treasurer. An attorney for Duncan Solutions tells News 4 Welch-Benson has been fired and that Duncan Solutions has taken over all of her duties.

“In the end, the taxpayers pick up the tab,” U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan said.

Welch-Benson also contracted directly with the City Treasurer’s Office for what the feds call a “sham consulting agreement.”  Welch-Benson got $16,000 from the treasurer for “legislative monitoring, reporting and advocacy,”  but she didn’t do any of that.

It also appears she’s working with someone on the inside of the Treasurer’s Office.  According to her plea agreement, she paid one of her ghost employees “at the direction of the St. Louis Treasurer’s Office.”

U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan won’t give much away about this on-going investigation, but he was careful with his choice of words when answering this question:

"Duncan [Solutions] is a victim here; is the City Treasurer's Office a victim as well?"

After a brief pause, Callahan answered, “Certainly the taxpayers are, yes.”

Court documents don’t name the three ghost employees nor the blackmailer, but that might be because those people haven’t been charged—yet.

“As with any ongoing investigation, it doesn’t end today,” Callahan said.

Larry Williams has held the City Treasurer’s job for three decades.  My calls for comment went unanswered, and when I went by his office, he wasn’t there.  He’s retiring, and Democrat Tishaura Jones is expected to win the general election for his job. 

I talked to her on the phone, and she says this case is proof that the office needs a good house cleaning.  Jones calls for a top-to-bottom audit of the office, which she vows to post publically.  She also wants accountability and transparency, which is quite rare for this office, which virtually answers to no one.

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