COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) — A state watchdog said Ohio Lottery Commission officials assigned to JACK Thistledown Racino received a combined $29,000 in wages and benefits for more than 600 hours they didn’t actually work over a 1 1/2-month span.
A lack of oversight at the North Randall racino contributed to the “repeated policy violations” of eight commission investigators and one supervisor, who were found to have falsified their time sheets, according to a Thursday news release from the Office of the Ohio Inspector General.
Between July 2021 and November 2021, the state-employed gambling regulators — six full-time and two part-time — often showed up late to work, left early or didn’t show up at all, the investigation found. They also forwarded work calls to their personal cell phones, to make it seem like they were in their offices, while they worked other jobs or ran for public office.
A part-time commission investigator made the initial complaint to the inspector’s office on Aug. 6, 2021, after seeing surveillance footage showing one full-time investigator didn’t show up for work one day in July, though his time sheet said differently, according to the investigation report. State inspectors then dove into surveillance video, keycard and phone logs, time sheets, schedules and other records.
That full-time investigator was working as a police officer at University Hospitals in Conneaut and Geneva during his scheduled hours at the racino or while on sick or family leave, inspectors found. Though commission workers are supposed to submit paperwork about their outside employment each year, that investigator didn’t, inspectors found.
He also ran two other businesses, including a car detailer, and worked as an assistant football coach at Buckeye Local School District in Ashtabula for several years while assigned to the racino. Many of those jobs weren’t reported to the commission, according to the report.
He also ran for a seat on the Ashtabula Township Board of Trustees in 2015 but wasn’t elected. Commission employees must file paperwork to run for elected office, but that investigator did not.
He was overpaid nearly $9,000 including benefits for 192 fraudulent hours, according to the report. He stopped cooperating with the state inspectors before being interviewed, the report states.
Another full-time commission investigator was found to be working as a police officer in Newton Falls during times he was supposed to be at the racino and didn’t report it. Inspectors found he was overpaid more than $1,400 in time and benefits for 36 fraudulent hours, the report shows.
The investigators’ full-time supervisor, who signed off on all their timesheets, was also overpaid more than $2,500 for 43 hours he didn’t work, the investigation found. The man told investigators he “considered his work schedule flexible because he often performed work for [the commission] ‘putting out fires’ off-the-clock,” the report reads.
“[The supervisor] claimed that the State of Ohio ‘owes me money’ for all the hours he actually worked and noted to investigators that he had received work-related calls while on vacation and that ‘it never ends,'” the report reads.
He was a manager and exempt from overtime but never cleared that flex time with supervisors, according to the report.
Investigators found he worked 17 days in the 1 1/2-month period under review — though he was scheduled to work 27 — and averaged about 7.5 hours per day. Though supervisors are allowed to work from home on occasion, the man didn’t regularly report those days, the investigation found.
“[The supervisor] also claimed he was unaware of the actual arrival and departure times of the [commission] investigators because [he] liked his privacy and generally had his office door closed,” the report states.
Inspectors learned he often delegated scheduling duties to the full-time investigator who was also working as a cop in Newton Falls. That added to the “overall lack of accountability” for office timekeeping, the supervisor said.
The inspector general’s office made more than a dozen recommendations to the commission on timekeeping, operations and supervision at racinos.
An Ohio Lottery Commission spokesperson sent the following statement Thursday:
When we learned about the issue in our Office of Investigations and Security at Thistledown Racino, we immediately launched our own investigation. In accordance with state protocols, we referred the matter to the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Inspector General. We appreciate the Inspector General looking into the matter, and through a cooperative process with their office, we have begun to implement corrective actions. Employees mentioned in the investigation have resigned, were transferred out of the racino, or will be placed on paid administrative leave until our internal investigation has been completed.Ohio Lottery Commission
FOX 8 also reached out to JACK Entertainment, but the company did not offer an official statement.
The investigation report has been referred to Cuyahoga County prosecutors and the state auditor for review, according to the release.