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June 23, 2013

Garcia's lawyer claims no theft at garage, just poor oversight

LAWRENCE — Any money missing from a city garage where an attendant is accused of skimming thousands of dollars is due to longstanding “systematic failures” in the city’s parking division, including shoddy financial controls, shabby record keeping, poor employee training, a lack of formal protocols, and a broken gate that may have allowed months of free parking for pass holders, the attendant’s lawyer said.

Lawyer Sal Tabit said much of his defense for attendant Justo Garcia will be rooted in the findings of a highly critical review of protocols and procedures at the city’s parking division that the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer undertook just after Garcia’s arrest on June 6.

In a report released last week, overseer Robert Nunes described a dysfunctional and neglected city agency that was “vulnerable” to a shakedown, where oversight is so lax that the cash receipts attendants turn in at the end of their shifts are not verified and where account clerks sometimes let the cash sit in drawers for longer than a week. Nunes ordered 14 reforms, including the installation of kiosks to collect parking fees and issue receipts at the Museum Square garage, where the alleged thefts occurred, and at a second garage and the seven surface lots that the city also owns.

“The report from Mr. Nunes supports and buttresses our position of Mr. Garcia’s innocence,” Tabit said. “It talks about a systematic failure by any department, but particularly the Department of Public Works, to have any internal controls or internal auditing mechanics.”

Tabit also said a spreadsheet itemizing collections for the sale of monthly parking passes at the Museum Square garage since April 12, 2007, shows receipts fluctuated widely over the last six years, which he said deflates allegations that a drop in collections late last year was due to theft.

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