Commerce Dept. Inspector General's Casino Trip Probed
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Commerce Department Inspector General Johnnie E. Frazier, whose retirement was announced Thursday, took five subordinates attending a government conference last spring gambling with him in Atlantic City on federal time, a lawmaker alleged yesterday.
When Frazier returned to the conference in Philadelphia, he asked subordinates if he could borrow $100 and one assistant obliged, according to a congressional committee and an eyewitness.
Frazier retired while several congressional and executive branch investigations of his activities are pending. A report by the Office of Special Counsel last month recommended that President Bush punish him for violating the federal whistle-blower law by demoting two witnesses involved in the investigations.
Frazier did not return a call to his office seeking comment yesterday, and his deputy, Elizabeth Barlow, said the office would not discuss the investigations. His retirement takes effect June 29.
In a letter to the special counsel, Frazier denied the demotions were reprisals and accused the counsel's office of failing to have "fully investigated the motivations" of the whistle-blowers.
But the counsel's office rejected Frazier's explanation. "The very official charged with preventing and detecting abuse has compromised the integrity of the office," the counsel wrote Bush on May 25.
The Washington Post first reported last month that several of his subordinates alleged that Frazier -- the department's chief watchdog responsible for investigating waste, fraud and abuse -- misspent money, abused government travel and retaliated against subordinates. The casino trip is being investigated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which polices inspectors general.
Investigators for the committee confirmed that in spring 2006 Frazier and five subordinates left the Philadelphia meeting in the early afternoon and traveled to several Atlantic City casinos. The lawmakers said official time records show that the attendees charged the government for a full day's work despite the casino trip.
"Instead of attending a government sponsored conference, apparently the inspector general and his staff thought their time would be better spent on slots and roulette," said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) who chairs the House panel's investigative subcommittee.
The committee's staff also has interviewed an assistant in Frazier's office who gave her boss $100 after he asked subordinates if he could borrow money. An eyewitness, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about reprisal, said Frazier asked subordinates for money the morning after returning from the gambling jaunt. One obliged, the witness said.
The House panel also is investigating whether Frazier and others altered or deleted government records after the investigations began. One manager has told the committee he helped Frazier delete approximately 4,000 e-mails from his government account last October, the committee said.
"Mr. Frazier's decision to resign was a wise one," said Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "This investigation, however, is far from over."