AUSTIN — During an affordability crisis in the city, local officials continue to disastrously mishandle citizens’ precious money—this time allowing a convicted thief to casually steal over $1.3 million.
Randall Nelson Whited, a former employee of the Austin Public Library, is facing a criminal case after the city auditor’s office investigated and alleged he used city credit cards to buy $1.3 million in printer toner—10 times more than the library needed—so he could steal the extra and resell it online.
Whited is also accused of using city credit cards—of which he had access to more than 10—to fund his apparent personal spending spree, buying at least $18,000 worth of electronics such as video games, robotic vacuums, virtual reality headsets, and even a drone.
The thefts spanned more than a decade, from 2007 to 2019, but officials believe most of it occurred within the last five years.
How was Whited able to get away with stealing over a million of citizens’ cash? According to the city auditor’s office, city officials at the library did not oversee spending and allowed Whited to approve his own purchases.
“The library’s poor practices and procedures provided an opportunity for Whited to steal from the city during his tenure, leading to waste and overspending by the department,” wrote the auditor’s office in a 72-page report released this week.
“Whited also took advantage of several other purchasing and budget-related shortcomings, such as having a role in the approval of his own purchases and insufficient oversight of the library’s budget by [Financial Manager Victoria Rieger] and Assistant Director Dana McBee,” the report said.
“They gave up on doing their job or just rushed through it, and that’s how he got away with it for so long,” said Brian Molloy, chief of investigations for the city auditor’s office, who also said the case is “probably the biggest fraud investigation the city audit has had by about two folds.”
“It’s shocking that it was missed,” Molloy added. “It’s shocking that it was missed by multiple people; there wasn’t just one person approving his purchases.”
Whited already had a long history of theft charges before working at the library, with multiple arrests dating back to the mid-1980s. However, citizens applying to work for the City of Austin do not have to say if they have a criminal record, thanks to city hall removing the “criminal history” box from their job application form in 2008.
Sadly for Austinites, this story is just the latest in city hall’s long trail of appalling mishandling of citizens’ hard-earned money.
For example, the all-Democrat Austin City Council overspent $140 million on a flawed tunnel, flushed $450,000 on two public toilets, wasted $115,000 to clean one public toilet, literally gave away a total of millions to citizens who simply emailed the city asking for cash, lavished $156,000 on holiday parties last December, and threw away a whopping $1 billion on a catastrophic biomass power plant project that only produced energy for six months before it was permanently shut down.
And while city hall manages money like a drunk South Padre partier on Spring Break, working-class Austinites are the ones suffering the most. The city council is charging the median homeowner 100 percent more in taxes than 12 years ago, and according to a United Way report, 42 percent of area families are struggling to pay their bills.
Citizens, however, have taken action to regain control of city hall, with 20 candidates running for five city council seats in November’s election, and many of them aim to end these disastrous stories of city officials’ wasteful neglect.