IG report: Baltimore retirement plan official improperly used $220,000 to renovate offices

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An official at Baltimore’s Retirement Savings Plan improperly used nearly $220,000 to renovate its new offices, passing the money through third parties and failing to get approval from the city’s spending board, according to a report the city’s inspector general released Wednesday.

Councilwoman Shannon Sneed said she lodged a complaint with the inspector general after hearing an allegation about the renovations from a city resident. The report says the inspector general’s office began an investigation after it received a tip from a member of the City Council; the report doesn’t name that council member.

The report said two officials employed by the Retirement Savings Plan, a 401k-style program for newer city employees, no longer work for the city.

Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming said in an interview that some of the money was used to buy a 98-inch television for a meeting room.

Roselyn Spencer, who directs the city’s retirement systems, could not be reached for comment. A person who answered the phone at her office said both that Spencer was out and in a meeting.

The money the official used to pay for the renovations was from an account that holds what’s known as forfeited funds. That’s the city’s match of retirement contributions by employees who resign before working for the city for five years, leaving the funds unclaimed.

Those funds can be used for administrative expenses or to reduce the amount the city needs to contribute to the plan, but the inspector general found no evidence the second option was considered.

Cumming said in an interview that the official acted without consulting the savings plans’ board of directors or getting approval from the Board of Estimates, which publishes details of city spending and would have alerted the public, the mayor and other senior officials to the renovations.

“The board wasn’t aware of how much money was being used and where the money was coming from,” Cumming said.

Employees at a private company the city used to administer the savings plan raised questions about the spending, but the official ignored them, Cumming said.

The official obscured the source of the funds by taking them from the private administrator, passing them through the Baltimore Development Corporation, which owns the building where the office is located, and then through the building’s private management company to the contractor.

Cumming said the BDC did not do anything wrong and cooperated with the investigation.

The Retirement Savings Plan’s new offices are one floor down from its old location in a building on Redwood Street. The staff moved this week.

iduncan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/iduncan



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