This seems to be the week for old government corruption to be cleaned up. First we heard about Leland Yee packing his bags for the crowbar motel and now we see that Jeffrey Neely will be doing three months (?) in prison. This is a name that you’re probably familiar with if you’ve been following government waste, fraud and abuse stories for the past few years. (From the WaPo)
Jeffrey Neely, the senior executive whose appearance in a video drinking wine in a hot tub at a Las Vegas hotel became the public face of a conference where hundreds of federal employees partied at taxpayer expense, was sentenced Tuesday to three months in prison.
The former regional commissioner for the General Services Administration’s Pacific Rim real estate portfolio also will serve three months’ home detention and pay $10,000 in restitution and fines. In April, he pleaded guilty to one count of fraud against the government, admitting that he had billed GSA for a night’s stay at the M Resort Spa Casino in Las Vegas, even though he was not on business for the agency’s Public Buildings Service.
Neely also admitted to prosecutors that he got GSA to pay additional false claims during his tenure, improperly failed to claim annual leave on certain dates and illegally charged the government more than $5,000. And he acknowledged that he had both abused his position as a top government official and lied to the GSA inspector general’s office, which released an explosive report in 2012 documenting abuses at the Western Regions Conference.
For those who missed it the first time around, back in 2010, in the midst of economic collapse and hard times across the nation, Neely rose to fame as the face of government waste, fraud and abuse when stories emerged of a massive, $823,000 “training conference” for the GSA hosted in Vegas. The range of necessary expenses on the taxpayer dime which rolled out of that one was enough to even embarrass the government.
Among the “excessive, wasteful and in some cases impermissable” spending the inspector general documented: $5,600 for three semi-private catered in-room parties and $44 per person daily breakfasts; $75,000 for a “team-building” exercise — the goal was to build a bicycle; $146,000 on catered food and drinks; and $6,325 on commemorative coins in velvet boxes to reward all participants for their work on stimulus projects. The $31,208 “networking” reception featured a $19-per-person artisanal cheese display and $7,000 of sushi. At the conference’s closing-night dinner, employees received “yearbooks” with their pictures, at a cost of $8,130.
The GSA also failed to follow regulations on the use of contractors for the conference, promising, for example, the hotel an additional $41,480 in catering charges in exchange for the hotel lowering its lodging cost to honor the government’s limit on room prices.
That conference turned out to actually be a golden moment in the history of Washington accountability. Rules were changed and new oversight measures put in place across the board. By all reports, they have actually managed to curtail a massive amount of these parties and replace them with teleconferences and local training, reducing costs and reminding public servants that people are watching how they spend our money.
This isn’t a huge jail sentence, but Neely is in his sixties so any time in prison is probably pretty awful. And we’re talking about a Washington bureaucrat here, not some hardened gangster. I’m willing to bet that this will come as an unpleasant reminder to executives in all branches of government and get their attention. It’s one thing to think you’ll be getting a slap on the wrist if you schedule an expensive shindig, but when you see a high ranking official actually being hauled off to prison in irons you’ll likely be getting that pencil particularly sharp when you’re scheduling your events and submitting your budget.