AUSTIN (KXAN) — A former Austin Public Library employee has been arrested—accused of the theft of at least $1.3 million in printer toner over a 12-year period.
According to an investigative report by the Office of the City Auditor, Kyle resident Randall Whited fraudulently bought and stole the printer toner, then sold it online.
Additionally, the report also claims Whited used an APL credit card to buy electronics and home goods for personal use.
The report says the library’s “poor practices and procedures provided an opportunity to Whited to steal from the city during his tenure.” He was allowed to approve his own purchases, the report says, and he had insufficient oversight from his supervisors.
Whited allegedly purchased “at least $1.5 million” worth of toner from October 2007 to July 2019 for the library—based on available printer usage, the auditor’s office estimated the library would only need about $150,000 worth of toner for that timeframe.
The report also said investigators found spreadsheets detailing who he resold the toner to and security footage of Whited leaving the library with boxes of toner. It was believed Whited was taking the toner to other APL branches, but the library said they have other staff members responsible for doing that.
When investigators spoke to employees at other APL branches, they said they haven’t received new shipments of toner in several months and had “very little” on-hand, the report said.
The report also detailed other alleged misuse of city credit cards by Whited.
He reportedly used city credit cards to buy at least $18,000 worth of items that appeared to be for personal use, and $15,000 of it were consumer electronics like video games, virtual reality headsets, robotic vacuums and a drone.
The report says between February 2017 and July 2019, Whited used city credit cards to buy more than $140,000 of items, and investigators said due to poor inventory practices and inadequate purchasing records by APL, they couldn’t come to an exact amount.
When asked to provide a response to the report, Whited did not, the report says: “The Office of the City Auditor referred the issues to the Austin Police Department “due to the potentially criminal nature of Whited’s actions.”
Whited was booked into the Hays County Jail on a theft charge on Sept. 22. According to court records, he has five previous arrests from the 1980s and 90s—all for theft and burglary.
Bill Hines, attorney for Whited, told KXAN Monday, “We are investigating the allegations and evaluating all options under these difficult circumstances.”
Austin Public Library responds
On Monday, APL Director Roosevelt Weeks said the library appreciates and accepts the findings of the investigation, and that it will use this data to make changes. Weeks said in a statement, in part:
“We take fraud, waste, and abuse seriously, and while participating in the investigation we began taking immediate steps to address systemic deficiencies… We have updated our purchasing operations and strengthened internal controls to eliminate opportunities for fraud and waste.”
APL says changes made in response to the incident include:
- Reduction in number of employees who have access to City of Austin credit cards
- Elimination of store-specific credit cards for office supplies
- Limiting the use of third-party payment platforms
- Increased monitoring
Weeks continued, saying: “I believe these changes will prevent individuals with ill-intent from being able to take advantage of the internal control systems in future, and ultimately result in a more robust program for protecting the City’s assets and the public’s money.”
KXAN found an extensive criminal history for Whited, dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. He was arrested and convicted of several charges of theft and burglary of a building.
Yet, city records obtained by KXAN investigators show Whited passed a criminal background check.
He is listed in those records as having “Financial Responsibility” credentials—allowing him to use those city credit cards. A city spokesperson said employees must not only pass an initial background check but also checks every two years to maintain that status. They noted other background check requirements exist for employees to be classified as working with “Vulnerable Populations.”
The spokesperson said criminal background checks consider convictions in the past 10 years, which is why Whited’s past convictions weren’t considered. They explained no convictions were shown throughout Whited’s five background checks during his tenure at the city.
“The City of Austin is a reentry friendly employer,” the city spokesperson said. “In 2008, the City banned the criminal history box from its employment application, and in 2016 the City committed to being a Fair Chance Hiring employer.”
The Fair Chance Hiring Ordinance aims to reduce recidivism and unemployment for people with a criminal convictions and allow qualified job applicants with criminal histories a chance at employment.
A board member with local advocacy group Grassroots Leadership told KXAN there are many success stories of people trying to reenter the workforce after a conviction—which makes fair hiring efforts invaluable, despite bad actors.
KXAN’s Avery Travis spoke with several Austin residents Monday who said they were shocked when they heard the allegations made in the audit report.
“It’s sad, and I don’t know how it went uncovered or undetected,” Lawrence Billimek said. “That’s the kind of thing that there should be checks and balances to protect, and so it’s unfortunate. The fact that we all pay so much in property tax, it’s even more sort of insulting, you know?”
Several others asked the same question: ehy didn’t anyone notice these alleged actions sooner?
The city’s Purchasing Officer said they’ve learned from the incident and will work on “additional measures” to prevent fraud from happening.
“While any incident like this is regrettable we are reassured by the Auditor’s conclusion that the issues associated with this individual were not identified elsewhere in the City. We want to assure the public that our purchasing card program is a safe and valuable business tool for the City.”