Taken For a Ride

A trail of audits and an internal investigation suggest there may have been millions of dollars worth of loss and theft at the bus company over the years. Dick Lindgren says he found out the hard way that his bosses didn't want to know.

Cayo and Lindgren also assert that their investigation was stymied by management's failure to resolve the transit union's contention that employees had a right to have a steward present during interviews with the officers. "Nobody was going to give us any inside information with the union there," Cayo says. He further claims employees were threatening other employees about cooperating with the probe. "There were threats being made to employees to discourage them from talking--nails stuck in their tires and their cars scratched. When you walk into the overhaul base, everybody and his brother is staring at you. At the Snelling garage, I stood face to face with two mechanics who wanted me out of there even after I'd identified myself."

When the union demanded a steward be allowed to attend their interviews, Cayo and Lindgren both say that lawyers for the bus company told them not to do any more interviewing until they came back with a ruling. To the best of their knowledge, the ruling never came. "I was personally with [MTC] Police Chief Paul Wallace when he called Christenson, and [much later] when he called Tom Sather too, asking for a ruling," Cayo says. "We were essentially being told, 'Don't interview anybody with the union.' And that was paramount to the cases we were working on."

About the same time the union was demanding input into the investigation, Wallace was informing top management personnel that the theft problem was not limited to a few low-level employees. According to meeting notes Wallace made at the time, he told Christenson in June 1991 that the "consensus of [the] investigative team is that [the] problem is culturally rooted in an intransigent bureaucracy," and that "The conditions that allowed this to happen and go on unabated could only have occurred because of senior management turning a 'blind eye.'" Five months later, in a memo to MTC general counsel Tom Weaver, Wallace warned that "[S]ome employees...use the MTC as their personal K Mart."

By late 1992, the internal investigation had pretty much wound down. Wallace's memos during this time speak of problems with leaks and an overall lack of confidentiality, and of the increasing stress and fatigue borne by his cadre of part-time officers. It also appeared that Wallace and his force had fallen out of favor with bus company administrators. Wallace wrote an exasperated memo to Weaver in December 1992, citing a lack of respect for his division and its "internal isolation from the rest of the MTC." The MTC police force, he said, should be given more resources or abolished altogether. Five months later an independent auditor agreed that, given its dual responsibilities for street security and internal investigations, the police division was understaffed and not adequately consulted on issues relevant to its operation.

In terms of bottom-line results--hard proof and concrete charges against wrongdoers--the internal theft investigation accomplished very little. The employee accused of possessing a stolen vise was allowed to enter and complete a pretrial program that cleared away the charges without a conviction. He continued to work at the bus company. Another employee pleaded guilty to stealing $2.28 in paper towels.

But the practical impact of the investigation on the bus company's purchasing habits appears to have been far more significant. Paper towel orders, which were running at about $5,000 per month, were reduced by more than half. And a year after the $1.3 million cost overruns, orders for bus parts fell hundreds of thousands of dollars under budget in 1991 and continued to significantly decline in 1992, to a level nearly $2 million under budget.

Yet in March 1993, some aspects of the investigation were still troubling Dick Lindgren. In a three-page memo to Wallace, he agreed that no future criminal prosecutions could be obtained, but argued for misconduct hearings and possible administrative sanctions against some managers. "People had lied to us," he explains. "I wanted to let Wallace know that, and to tell him there was some truth to what people were saying about managerial improprieties."

According to Lindgren, he gave a copy of his memo and other documents related to the investigation, including the McGladrey & Pullen audit, to incoming general manager Tom Sather, who took office in March 1993. Lindgren also claims that Wallace informed Sather that the police chief would be sustaining internal allegations against some managers in connection with the theft investigation. "Even without a criminal prosecution, that would have sent a message within the bus company," Lindgren says.

But Wallace did not take any immediate action. Much of his time during 1993 and early 1994 was spent getting the MCTO police department up and running after an act of the Minnesota Legislature made it a full-fledged law enforcement agency. (As part of this process, Lindgren took a $6,000 pay cut to join MCTO as a full-time police captain in August 1993.) By the middle of 1994, Lindgren says Wallace had again turned his attention toward resolving the theft investigation by sustaining complaints against some MCTO managers. It was around this same time, Lindgren claims, that he and Wallace began to discover various papers missing from their files.

Fourteen months ago, in August 1994, Sather put Wallace on developmental training leave. Wallace, who has completed the $17,000 training program and continues to draw his $55,000 annual salary, has yet to be allowed to return to his duties as chief. (Wallace said he would talk to City Pages if given permission by MCTO. Citing the pending lawsuit, MCTO has refused requests to speak with Wallace or Sather. In court documents, Sather denies any interference with the operation or reporting of Lindgren's investigation.)

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