Friday, March 02, 2007

U.S. Marshals official accused of misspending security funds

U.S. Marshals official accused of misspending security funds
By Matt Kelley, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Marshals Service official misspent $4.3 million meant for courthouse security and witness protection to pay for fitness centers and firing ranges at federal buildings, a Justice Department investigation found.

The Office of Management and Budget repeatedly told David Barnes not to use construction money on exercise and training facilities, citing agency policy and appropriations laws that restricted the money for improved prisoner security, the report said.

MARSHALS WARNED: Budget office specified where money was to go

Barnes, who oversees courthouse space for the agency, concealed the spending from his superiors and directed $2.6 million in construction money for fitness centers and firing ranges at 20 federal courthouses from 2000 to 2005, according to a copy of the 41-page report obtained by USA TODAY.

The agency has not acted on the report, which it received last April.

Barnes also used nearly $900,000 budgeted for witness protection to build a firing range in the Miami federal courthouse, and he used nearly $400,000 in construction money to hire fitness center staff and clerical workers at the Marshals Service headquarters, where Barnes works, the investigation found. Some workers were friends or relatives of Barnes and his subordinates and were unqualified for the jobs, the report said.

Barnes' lawyer, Charles Printz, said his client had the authority to spend construction money on firing ranges and fitness centers. Printz said the investigation was spurred by disgruntled employees and he expected his client to be cleared.

"No monies were misappropriated," Printz said in an e-mail response.

Barnes remains on the job, pending an administrative review. He could be fired, suspended or cleared.

Marshals spokesman Michael Kulstad and Paul Martin of the Inspector General's office declined to comment.

Printz referred questions to Kevin Linskey, the former staff director of the Senate panel controlling Justice Department spending. Linskey said Congress gave the agency leeway to spend its construction money, including for fitness centers and firing ranges.

In the report, the Justice Department said construction money was supposed to be for "prisoner holding space" in courthouses. In 2001, a congressional committee warned security must be tightened "before a tragedy occurs."

The report also found Barnes:

•Wasted $440,000 by bypassing Marshals Service officials and paying for contractors and construction through the General Services Administration. Printz said those contracts were legal.

•Violated ethics rules by having subordinates do work for free around his home and by forming a vanpool company used by contractors he hired. Ethics rules ban managers from receiving gifts from their employees, the report said. It also found that the vanpool company, which he initially failed to disclose, was a conflict of interest. Printz said the workers are longtime friends of Barnes and that the vanpool arrangement did not violate ethics rules.