(J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

The U.S. Senate is out of town this week, and somebody may want to make sure its furniture is safe and secure.

An employee assigned to care for furniture used by Senate offices stole and illegally sold more than $13,700 worth of tables and chairs to a used furniture dealer in Virginia, according to a new watchdog report and people familiar with the investigation.

The employee worked for the Architect of the Capitol, the office responsible for maintenance, landscaping and renovations at the U.S. Capitol and adjoining congressional buildings. A report released this week by the AOC inspector general provided limited details of the illegal sale.

On three separate occasions between October 2010 and August 2011, the report said the employee used an AOC vehicle to transport the stolen furniture and sell it to a used furniture store.

The employee, who resigned his position one day before he was set to be fired, sold the furniture to a used furniture store in Virginia, according to two people familiar with the investigation who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. The pieces were not considered valuable antiques, and were mostly excess office furniture previously used in Senate offices, the sources said.

The inspector general’s office learned of the illegal furniture sales from an AOC employee who spotted “what appeared to be AOC Senate furniture for sale in a local used furniture store,” according to the report. Watchdog investigators successfully identified the stolen furniture after finding “government markings” affixed to the furniture, the report said.

The employee later admitted to investigators that he earned about $1,000 for the stolen furniture. Investigators estimated that the total value of the recovered furniture was $13,750 — but the report did not say whether the AOC recovered all of its stolen furniture.

AOC Inspector General Carol Bates declined to provide further details of the case Wednesday, because the employee’s decision to resign didn’t require AOC to take formal disciplinary action. In her report, Bates said federal prosecutors in Washington declined to press charges in the case because of the AOC’s lax security and furniture inventory system.

AOC spokeswoman Eva Malecki previously declined to comment on the case.

The watchdog report, a semiannual report to the Senate Rules Committee and House Administration Committee, also details other personnel violations, including workers who improperly reported worker’s compensation claims and allegations that some employees stole flags, tools and copper from congressional facilities.

The AOC has been plagued for years by allegations from current and former employees of improper termination, sexual harassment and racism in hiring and disciplinary decisions. At least two federal lawsuits related to such allegations are pending in federal court in Washington.

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