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Where is the money going from Norfolk’s special event parking?

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Posted at 12:00 AM, Oct 02, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-02 05:53:43-04

Norfolk, Va. - Norfolk neighbors and visitors pay millions every year to park in garages and lots. But city records show some of that money disappears.

NewsChannel 3 obtained more than 15,000 documents showing cashiers routinely misplace cash. Parking attendants have come up $200, $300, even $400 short. Sometimes the shortages are blamed on mistakes, poor training, equipment problems, even windy weather. But documents also show supervisors scramble to collect before a cashier gets fired.

"Pull the money quickly" a letter demands. "He is now on suspension pending termination."

Does the city ever get that missing money back? It's taken weeks to get that simple answer.

This NewsChannel 3 parking investigation grew from another investigation where we discovered the city was paying a private plumber named Andrew Zoby thousands of dollars for work that wasn't done. And the city kept paying him even though the city knew he was under a federal fraud investigation.

While looking into that, NewsChannel 3 found out city auditors were looking into another fraud complaint.

"Our office received an allegation of possible theft involving special-event parking," city auditor John Sanderlin confirmed in an email this week.

Sanderlin, who investigates fraud, said the complaint was short on specifics, so his investigators have spent months looking into suspicious shortages. That investigation is not finished.

NewsChannel 3 also has been looking into reports of missing cash, and if our experience with the city is any indication, the auditor won't have an easy time.

This started off as a pretty simple public records request. We asked Norfolk to provide documents of discrepancies in special-event parking -- the cash-only parking -- and how the city accounted for that. It turned into one of the biggest public-records runarounds we’ve ever dealt with.

The city insisted a box of 15,000 documents was the only way it kept track of parking-cash shortages.

So NewsChannel 3’s Mike Mather added up all the missing money and we aired a preview of what our investigation had uncovered so far.

That apparently stirred up the mayor. We received a call from the city spokeswoman demanding we retract the preview.

She said our story would be wrong because the city just figured out it gave us the wrong information. The box of documents is really for all parking, not just the cash-only parking the city auditor is investigating. But still, there were no records showing if the city got any money back.

Except that this morning, nearly a month after we started asking, Norfolk suddenly came up with some records.

They actually show the amount of missing money is more than we thought, $16,000 missing over the past five years.

The records also show the city deducted $10,000 from parking workers' paychecks, and collected another $4,000 in cash. The city has forgiven more than 2,000 missing dollars.

The bottom line, and this is the most important part, the city spokeswoman admitted today there are no records to track how individual attendants handle cash during special-event parking. And that's going to make it tough for the city's auditor.