Failure to report allowed TUSD property theft to go on

2013-08-17T00:00:00Z 2013-08-19T11:41:32Z Failure to report allowed TUSD property theft to go onBy Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Co-workers turned a blind eye while a TUSD supervisor, sometimes with the help of subordinates, sold thousands of dollars worth of district property over at least four years, a district report shows.

Despite half a dozen employees knowing, or at least suspecting, that criminal activity was taking place, no one came forward.

Co-workers told investigators they were afraid of losing their job, saying “you do what the boss tells you,” or they claimed it was not their responsibility to report the information.

The theft, which resulted in the termination of two employees and the suspension of six others, came to light in April when an employee became fed up with the situation, saying equipment that was needed in TUSD schools was being sold for his supervisor’s personal gain.

The employee reported that his grandson, who attends a TUSD school, had his finger broken by a desk. He recalled cutting and sanding 500 desks so he could replace the Formica and then they disappeared.

“It’s getting out of hand,” the employee told Tucson Unified School District authorities.

District officials say the lost furniture and equipment was technically surplus or obsolete, meaning it likely would not have gone to school sites. Nonetheless, the district suffered a loss of at least $4,400.

“The district lost surplus or obsolete furniture or equipment and the money that our legitimate, mandated disposition process would have brought,” said Candy Egbert, TUSD’s chief operations officer.

“It is very concerning that employees failed to report,” she said, which is why employees who did not receive money but knew were disciplined.

The Tucson Police Department has opened a fraud case. The investigation is ongoing.

The property control supervisor, Rey Bussari, who worked for TUSD for more than 15 years, admitted to orchestrating the scheme, saying it was a practice he learned from past supervisors.

The money Bussari pocketed — he estimated it was roughly $100 a week — was spent paying bills and buying meals and items for his children, he told district investigators.

Bussari could not be reached for comment.

He also claims he set aside some of the cash in a “slush fund” to pay for water, drinks and food and to cover traffic tickets his employees received.

TUSD officials believe Bussari minimized the amount of money he made selling desks, tables, chairs, whiteboards, filing cabinets, technology equipment and other items.

Among those purchasing items from Bussari were day-care centers, who reported coming to the TUSD warehouse up to a dozen times, spending anywhere from $16 to $250 per trip on furniture that was in some cases said to be in excellent condition.

Many of the unauthorized sales were to people from Mexico, who came in a few times a month or as often as a few times a week, hauling off computers and other furniture.

Bussari’s right-hand man, Pedro Munoz, was also fired. Co-workers reported Munoz primarily helped with the sales — translating for Spanish-speaking customers and loading up furniture — and was seen with money in hand.

Munoz, however, did not accept responsibility for his part in the activity or his failure to report what he knew.

In addition to the unauthorized furniture sales, Bussari admitted to having his technicians sell scrap metal from surplus property on a regular basis, yielding anywhere from $50 to $270 per trip — none of which was ever deposited into TUSD accounts.

Other discoveries made during the investigation include:

Bussari directed a subordinate to make about 20 banners on district time — using TUSD scrap materials and equipment — for his children’s sports teams.

Bussari has assisted St. John The Evangelist Catholic School — where his children are enrolled — with TUSD equipment and staff, providing furniture on an ongoing basis above and beyond what is allowed. On one occasion, a vehicle was totaled while TUSD workers were picking up improperly loaned tables and chairs. Bussari covered up the accident, filing a false report with the district’s school safety department. Munoz lent Bussari his personal pickup truck to tow the district vehicle away.

TUSD has since doubled property control procedures, Egbert said.

In addition to temporary supervision by a school safety manager, the district rotates personnel who receive and distribute resources and requires verification of all transactions by a second party.

Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at ahuicochea@azstarnet.com or 573-4175. On Twitter

@AlexisHuicochea

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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