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Utilities gets charged up 

Police are investigating a Colorado Springs Utilities employee's use of a purchasing card, which apparently led to her recent resignation.

The human resources administrative supervisor, who worked at Utilities for eight years, has not yet been charged. Police Sgt. Steve Noblitt says the investigation began Aug. 25. That was five days after she resigned her $32.18-per-hour (nearly $67,000 a year) job, saying in her resignation letter, "It is with a very sad heart that I submit this resignation and my truest apologies for the angst my actions have caused."

The woman, whose name hasn't been released, couldn't be reached for comment.

Noblitt wouldn't say what period of time the investigation covers, or when the investigation would wrap up.

Utilities officials also refused to discuss the investigation's time span and what items or services were charged to the purchasing card at issue. They also denied access to invoices containing those charges.

"Due to an ongoing investigation by the Colorado Springs Police Department we are unable to respond at this time," Utilities spokesman Mark Murphy wrote in an e-mail.

The woman apparently was a well-regarded employee. Her pay increased by 38 percent from June 2007 to August 2010, and records show she collected $16,829 in bonuses from 2006 through 2009, when Utilities' pay-for-performance bonus program ended.

The employee gave her supervisor high praise going out the door: "Colorado Springs Utilities is an amazing company," she wrote. "I have grown and enjoyed working under the leadership of Sandi Yukman [general manager of human resources] more than I can express." Whether disciplinary action was taken against Yukman was withheld based on employee privacy rights.

This wouldn't be the first time Utilities has been fooled by one of its own. Longtime cashier Donna Inzer embezzled $435,000 over three-plus years before being caught in February 2007 following a customer complaint. Utilities recovered most of the money through insurance, and Inzer was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 14 years probation. Before that, four-year customer service worker Elizabeth Bischoff, who left in 2005, stole customers' addresses, Social Security numbers and bank account information; she pleaded guilty to identity theft and received 300 hours of public service and two years' probation.

Purchasing cards have been used for years by city agencies, which get rebates from credit card companies that can run into the tens of thousands of dollars a year. But cards also can be abused. The city auditor's office in 2008 looked at city-owned Memorial Health System's use of the cards and found they'd been issued to part-time employees in violation of policy. Auditors also noted some documentation wasn't approved by supervisors, receipts were missing, and some purchases appeared to have been made by someone other than the cardholder, among other findings.

City auditors reviewed Utilities' card use in 2004 and followed up in 2005, making no "significant findings" but noting "some opportunities for improvements," auditor Denny Nester says by e-mail. His office soon will look again at Utilities' card use, a move apparently unrelated to the criminal investigation.

Neither city government nor its smaller enterprises, such as golf courses and parking garages, have suffered employee thefts, says the city's human resources director of 12 years, Ann Crossey. She adds in an e-mail, "To the best of my knowledge, we have not had any embezzlement cases since I've been employed here."

zubeck@csindy.com

  • A Colorado Springs Utilities worker resigns; police dig into card history.

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