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Petrotrin $1m transport scam

...of million-dollar bill racked up by his wife
Published: 
Monday, July 11, 2011
Ex-manger asked to pay $42,000
Petrotrin’s vice president planning and technology, Khalid Hassanali

The findings of an internal audit conducted by State-owned Petrotrin have unearthed a hefty $1 million transportation bill which has been racked up by the wife of a former manager. Documents obtained from an internal audit conducted by Petrotrin showed that its former manager of organisational effectiveness, Caesar Mitchell, agreed to have a fixed sum deducted from his monthly salary, commencing July 2010. The deductions came after Petrotrin spent an estimated $1,023,706.80 on transport fees between September 2001 to June 30, 2010 for Sally Mitchell (wife) via transport contractor Marcia and Robert Bain.

His wife, the report stated, was transported—from her home, Clifton Hill, Point Fortin to her job in Siparia—under the guise of the School Children Transport (SCT) contract until December 31, 2009, when Petrotrin ceased to provide this service to its employees. She even continued to use the service for up to five months after Petrotrin ceased the SCT operation. Of the entire bill incurred, Mitchell was requested to pay the total sum of $41,999.80 which was credited to the company’s transport cost centre. The $41,999.80 represented the period January 2010 to May 2010, for which Mitchell was billed.

A breakdown of the $1,023,706.80 showed that $87,347.80 was the cost of transporting Sally during the school vacation, while $936,359.00 was the monetary value of the gift (transport service) received from the Bains. Asked why Mitchell was only billed $42,000, a company spokesman said: “It’s management decision....I would have asked him to pay back the million dollars but management in Petrotrin is so lax in these instances of corruption.” When contacted initially on Wednesday, Mitchell’s wife (Sally) asked that she be questioned on the audit at 5.30 pm, which the Sunday Guardian complied. Attempts to reach her up to yesterday were unsuccessful. 

Illegitimate transactions

Also mentioned in the audit were two Petrotrin employees, who knew of the illegitimate             transactions and processed  and approved the contractor’s invoices.A source revealed that the services of one of those employees were terminated last month while the other received a warning letter as a result of his actions. 

Two recommendations coming out of the audit report had requested the following:

• The recovery of the entire amount to be paid by Marcia Bain to Petrotrin for transport services and;

• Further investigation of the issue by the industrial relations department and line management.

 Though the Mitchells did not receive a direct gift of money, the report showed, they accepted and benefited financially by directly accepting a gift of nine years transportation from the contractor. Bain, contacted yesterday, said she was called in by the auditors to give a statement.  She added: “I have done nothing wrong. I took directives from my supervisors (in Petrotrin), taking things or people from one point to another at the request of certain Petrotrin employees in supervisory positions.”Sources revealed that several other Petrotrin workers were involved in the scam.

Breach of fiduciary duty

The report stated that Mitchell evidently facilitated his wife’s receipt of this benefit by not raising any objection or putting alternative arrangements in place. As a result, he breached his fiduciary duty of honesty to Petrotrin. In his statement to Internal Audit on August 5, 2010, Mitchell said Mr Bain, through his own generosity and appreciation for convenience, invited his wife to accompany their daughter (Akeisha Mitchell) to school “as far as I am aware”. Akeisha was entitled to transport by the company. In 2006, Mitchell noted that when Akeisha graduated, his wife enquired about the availability and cost of his services to continue transporting her. In response to his wife’s enquiries, Mitchell said Mr Bain offered to continue transporting his wife, “shuttling her from Clifton Hill to Siparia, at no cost to her nor the company”.

Mitchell’s statement in the report, however, “proved to be less than honest”, since Mr Bain had died since 2004. It was also discovered that during the period May 2005 and June 2010, his wife continued to travel with the school children and during holidays. In some instances, a separate vehicle was provided by Mrs Bain to transport Mitchell’s wife which amounted to $38,989.00 between May 2005 to December 2009 “without Petrotrin’s necessary authorisation”. Documents showed that Mitchell would have known about the travel arrangements since he was directly involved in the administration of the SCT contract during the period 2001 to 2008.

Mitchell: It’s political wickedness

Contacted by the Sunday Guardian for comment, Mitchell insisted that the transport audit involving his wife was flawed since he made “no request for the transport” nor authorised payments to the contractor on her behalf. Mitchell, who said he campaigned for the PNM, viewed the audit as political harassment and a “disguise of targeting folks”. “Everyone considered it as political wickedness. They were just looking for something to talk about.”

Mitchell said he was of “the opinion that the contractor was giving her (Sally) a lift to work,” which he was charged for and has since paid in its entirety. He said: “The only reason why I paid it was because of my upbringing. I am an honest person. I was never charged for anything.” Denying that he was forced to resign, but taking pre-retirement with full benefits last month, Mitchell said: “I saw the political harassment, as if it was being instructed from somebody in the political arena. 

“I decided not to put myself through this because people associate me with aligning to a particular party. There were those who basically heard people voicing that some people must go and that kind of thing,” Mitchell added. He denied not telling the truth to the auditors in his original statement, explaining that he got the years mixed up, but corrected it in a subsequent statement. A Petrotrin spokesman revealed that management was “lax” when it came to dealing with audits of this nature and that there were at least 16 investigations between 2010 and 2011, that involved employees. The company spokesman added: “You see, for some employees the Fraud Squad is called in and for others, it is not.  “So there is inequity in the application of our justice system at this institution.”

Political influence in scholarship? 

Meanwhile, in another audit involving an investigation into allegations surrounding the improper award of a Petrotrin scholarship to Mitchell’s daughter (Akeisha), allegations of political interference and impaired judge

petrotrin official responds

Communications manager Gillian Friday, responding to questions submitted to the company’s communications department by the Sunday Guardian, stated that such matters could not be revealed. She stated via e-mail on Friday: “It is not company policy to comment publicly neither on personnel matters nor on the outcomes of internal audits.”

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