Both received suspended sentences in the pleadings. Tsaba was ordered to serve 36 months of probation, and Lontchi was sentenced to 18 months’ probation, the inspector general’s office said. Both also owe thousands of dollars in restitution: Tsaba was ordered to pay Metro $3,712.21 and Amtrak $3,779.80; Lontchi was ordered to pay an unspecified amount to Amtrak.
The case was one of several developments announced by Metro Inspector General Geoffrey Cherrington when he briefed the board of directors on six months’ worth of audits and investigations — the most high profile of which nabbed the vice president of a Maryland construction firm on suspected bribery of a Metro official.
In September, a Maryland grand jury indicted Hardutt Singh of Hyattsville-based Potomac Construction, on a charge of attempting to bribe the manager of Metro’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department in December 2016. It was one of four criminal indictments the office said it secured from July through December.
Another recent probe found former Metro employees owe the agency nearly $340,000 for pay they received while they were no longer working there. According to the audit, Metro failed to take actions such as notifying the human resources and payroll departments and deactivating the employees’ direct deposits after they had departed. The claims date as far back as 2008. (For comparison, Metro estimated it lost $400,000 a day during the federal government shutdown.)
“As we continue to investigate large-scale, complex fraud investigations, we will also refer investigations for prosecution regardless of the severity or dollar amount,” Kimberly Howell, the agency’s assistant inspector general for investigations, said in a statement.
The inspector general also released to the board the findings of two audits: one looking at Metro’s separation process for terminated and exiting employees and the second examining the Vendor Master File, the logs the agency uses to track purchases and dealings with contractors.
In one illustration of the agency’s failure to clamp down on employee separation, for example, auditors found that 41 former Metro employees have 92 of Metro’s active cellphones.
In another example, an employee who left Metro on Dec. 1, 2008, owes the agency more than $25,000 in salary overpayments.
The audit of Metro’s Vendor Master File found the agency’s vendor log was disorganized and contained duplicate records and other inefficiencies that left the agency susceptible to possible fraud or mispayments.
In both cases, Metro management agreed with the office’s findings and agreed to correct the problems that were uncovered.
Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said he is satisfied with Cherrington’s performance since he began in the post in April 2017.
Cherrington’s tenure has been marked by investigations into human resources debacles and safety lapses, cybersecurity and the agency’s finances.
For example, Cherrington’s probe into alleged racial and sexual harassment of an employee culminated in Metro’s firing of Omari June, the second in charge of MetroAccess paratransit, after the office examined Metro’s handling of the original complaints, which ended in the firing of the woman who alleged she was being harassed in 2014.
Evans said Cherrington’s range of cases from nickel-and-dime investigations to broader issue-oriented audits underscores his investigative chops. He said the agency hasn’t had an “inspector general in a long, long time that was looking at this stuff.”
“I met with him, actually, on Thursday. . . . I told him he’s doing a good job,” Evans said. In coming months, Evans said, he wants Cherrington to adopt two areas of focus.
“This is what I’m looking at you for,” he said. “Because he is doing the investigation of the Silver Line for us, I said, ‘I want a detailed report on that whole thing — soup to nuts. What am I buying here?’ ”
Evans also wants Cherrington to look into pensions.
Cherrington, who answers to the Metro board, has already opened a probe into the construction of the Silver Line’s second phase, which has been beset by problems — including a contractor’s guilty plea to falsifying quality tests while the firm he worked for provided concrete panels for five of the six new stations.
Later, in December, Silver Line officials said hundreds of concrete rail ties at track crossovers for the line extension were flawed, potentially causing tracks to lay askew.
Cherrington provided a brief synopsis of the scope of his Silver Line investigation Thursday.
“The objective of this special project is to assess the issue with Phase 2 of the Silver Line and assess the impact of future operations and maintenance before acceptance by [Metro],” the synopsis said.
Evans has raised repeated alarms about Metro’s reported nearly $3 billion in unfunded retirement obligations, arguing pensions will become such a financial strain over a decade that “we won’t be able to run the system.”
He wants Cherrington to examine questions that management and Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, have been sparring over: How big a problem is Metro’s unfunded pension liability? What percentage of the agency’s pension obligations are funded? (A 2017 report by a consultant hired by the state of Virginia concluded the answer was 77 percent.) Are there areas where Metro’s management of the fund has been inefficient, and are pensions an existential question for Metro?