Ease of defrauding state points to bad protocol

By By Kiyan Sharifian and By Kiyan Sharifian

By Kiyan Sharifian

Con artists defrauded the state of Utah out of $300,000 using U design and construction department vendor codes. Of the $2.5 million initially transferred to a Texas bank, $2.2 million was recovered by state authorities, said Utah Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen. The money was tracked to a man named Duncan Ongaga, who has been traced to an apartment on the second floor of a building in New Jersey. Torgensen said his office efficiently recovered a majority of the money by “finding it and freezing it.”

In the plan, which they hatched five years ago, the perpetrators forged documents through design and construction at the U to contract work. All projects must be submitted a year before each legislative cycle for approval. The yearlong timeline requires approval from U officials, including the Board of Regents and Board of Trustees. Final approval is given for the projects by the Utah Legislature and are signed off by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. The design and construction process is open to all departments at the U and bids are open to contractors who meet eligibility. Apparently, the scammers were able to feign eligibility by forging a proposal and going through the approval process.

Despite state official assurances that procedures have been put into place to prevent this type of fraud in the future, there has been no information released concerning the details of the scam. Torgensen said the court documents are sealed because “sensitive stuff is in there” and the justice system “doesn’t want crooks to have blueprints on how to do this.” Information regarding the project that this money was allocated to or why the money that was sent to Texas has not been released. Campus Design and Construction Services, as well as the U public relations department declined to comment.

In light of the present economic times, seeing mistakes with the allocation of public money is demoralizing. Scammers seem to be getting approved for state money easier than legitimate university programs.

With the litany of people signing off on projects, a con man should not have been able to defraud the U. The media has echoed that this type of scam is easy enough for a child to pull off. It appears that the vendor codes from the U, which were swiped by the scammers, are known by a circle of people, thereby limiting the promise of secrecy.

Better verification of documents and proper stewardship of public funds are necessary to combat this sort of scam. Re-education in proper protocol will need to be put in place to prevent this type of fraud in the future.

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Kiyan Sharifan