Hotline for fraud, waste, abuse in state government gets 16K calls over 25 years

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For the last quarter century, an anonymous tipline has helped expose wrongdoing in Virginia state government.

It’s covered everything from discrimination and harrassment to accusations that would eventually lead to a federal investigation into one of Virginia’s former first families.

It’s run out of the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG).

If you call the State Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline, there’s a good chance Tim Sadler picks up. He’s the hotline manager and has worked the phones for nearly a decade.

“We have all different types of wild things we get in, so it makes it really exciting,” said Sadler. “It’s not the same thing day after day.”

He said it’s had an impact on callers.

“As opposed to some of the other things they could do when they’re frustrated, they can call us and they can vent that out and at least we can relieve some of that tension,” said Sadler.

Since it was launched 25 years ago this month, the hotline has received more than 16,000 calls.

About 20 percent of the cases were substantiated and 33 percent resulted in recommendations for tighter controls, new policies and other improvements at state agencies.

Over the years, the top five allegations of wrongdoing include: 1) leave abuse; 2) state vehicle misuse; 3) violation of state hiring policy; 4) misuse of state equipment and resources; and 5) non-compliance with agency policies.

In 2012, one hotline call led to national news.

A former chef at Virginia’s Executive Mansion was accused of stealing. During the investigation, the chef told investigators that Fmr. Gov. Bob McDonnell and his family were taking undisclosed gifts.

That spurred the former politician’s widely-reported federal corruption trial. His charges were eventually dismissed. Michael Westfall is Acting State Inspector General.

He said it isn’t always easy for people to pick up the phone and call, but it is important to hold the powerful accountable.

“It is difficult for folks to report fraud, waste and abuse because oftentimes they work with these folks or they’re neighbors with these folks,” said Westfall. “However, we want to citizens to be assured that their tax dollars are being spent appropriately and that folks that are in state government can be relied upon to take appropriate actions.”

In December 2016, OSIG added an online complaint form to file reports. Since then, it has accounted for 44 percent of all hotline “calls.”

In fiscal year 2017, the hotline saw a 32 percent spike over the previous year.

OSIG attributes that increase to heightened awareness about the hotline and the new online form.

To reach the hotline, visit http://www.osig.virginia.gov, email covhotline@osig.virginia.gov, call 800-723-1615, or fax a tip to 804-371-0165.