(Courtesy Government Services Administration Web site)

Each year the General Services Administration catches federal workers swiping taxpayer-funded credit cards assigned to gas up and maintain government vehicles to fuel their personal vehicles.

Since 2010, federal employees have illegally stolen $2.4 million in gas, amounting to about 260 cases of government workers across the country stealing fuel, according to an investigation by NBC4 Washington’s Scott MacFarlane.

The GSA gas cards are assigned to a specific vehicle in the federal fleet of over 205,000 cars, buses, vans and trucks. According to the GSA’s Web site, the vehicles cannot be used for “activities outside of your agency’s mission including private business or personal errands.” Or to “transport members of your family, personal friends, or non-government employees in the vehicle outside of your agency’s mission, or without specific permission from the head of your agency or his or her designee.”

Each vehicle is assigned corresponding credit cards, but federal workers have been frequently found using the card for personal use, to earn some cash, and then forging data to try to cover it up.

The GSA inspector general’s most recent semiannual report to Congress, covering April through September 2014, listed a number of instances of federal workers caught stealing gas.

For example, Homeland Security Department contractor Jeffery Franklin pleaded guilty in May for using “multiple GSA Government Fleet Credit Cards to fuel his personal vehicle.” He was sentenced to six months in jail, a year of probation, and had to pay $3,920 in restitution. He cannot work for the federal government for three years.

In another case, a Navy employee in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to larceny for using the gas cards for his personal vehicles. Petty Officer 1st Class John C. Diianni was sentenced to five months in jail, was given a bad conduct discharge and had to pay $20,000 in restitution. A Labor Department maintenance technician, Joseph Ernst, in Glenmont, N.Y. was charged in August with theft and fraud for using the federal gas cards to buy gas for himself and for others in exchange for cash. He paid $950 and was sentenced to five years of supervisory release.

In a more recent court filing in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Va., GSA found that from October 2012 to June 2014, a mail carrier for the Defense Department, Kenneth Alston, used his fleet card to buy gas for others in exchange for cash. An investigation began when a computer program that tracks fleet card purchases detected “multiple over-tank transactions, a history of multiple transactions per day, and inconsistent
odometer entries.” He pleaded guilty to embezzlement of government property. He hasn’t yet been sentenced.

“These cases protect American taxpayer dollars from fraud,” Deputy GSA Inspector General Robert C. Erickson told the Loop in an e-mail. “They serve as a deterrent to people considering federal gas card fraud as a way to obtain money. People who steal from the United States in this manner have an excellent chance of getting caught, losing their jobs, and being prosecuted.”