B-233348, Jun 26, 1989, 68 Comp.Gen. 517

B-233348: Jun 26, 1989

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Where the applicable per diem rate was lower than in Saarbrucken. There was sufficient evidence to support the agency's finding of fraud. Which would have authorized per diem of $45. This produced a daily difference of $7 and a total of $448 less than the employee was paid. His statement contains the following colloquy with the CID investigator: "Q: Did you know at the time that you were filling out the travel voucher that you did not reside in Saarbrucken from the period 1 Sep 82 thru 4 Nov 82? "Q: Were you aware that Saarbrucken was a higher cost of living area? As I never saw a JTR until just recently and it is about $7.00 more per day. "A: About 4 months a year when I was station (sic) in the States and since I have been in Germany I spend about 10 days a month TDY.".

B-233348, Jun 26, 1989, 68 Comp.Gen. 517

CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Travel expenses - Fraud - Effects CIVILIAN PERSONNEL - Travel - Actual subsistence expenses - Fraud - Allegation substantiation - Evidence sufficiency An employee represented on a travel voucher that he lodged for 64 days at Saarbrucken during temporary duty in Germany, when, in fact, he lodged in Homburg, where the applicable per diem rate was lower than in Saarbrucken. In the absence of a satisfactory explanation for the discrepancy, there was sufficient evidence to support the agency's finding of fraud, and the employee may not be allowed subsistence expenses for those days.

Fraudulent Per Diem Claim:

A civilian employee of the Department of the Army claims refund of $2,937.87, plus interest, that the Army deducted from his pay for alleged fraud relating to a travel claim. For the reasons stated below, the amount should not be refunded.

BACKGROUND

The employee, upon completion of temporary duty in Miesau, Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), presented a travel voucher showing among other things, that from September 1 to November 4, 1982, he lodged in Saarbrucken, FRG. On that representation the Army paid him the maximum per diem rate of $52 or $3,328 for 64 days. Subsequently, another employee informed the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) that the subject employee did not lodge in Saarbrucken, but in Homburg, which would have authorized per diem of $45. This produced a daily difference of $7 and a total of $448 less than the employee was paid.

A CID investigation followed in which an interview with the owner of the Burgenhof Hotel in Homburg disclosed that the employee had lodged there from September 1 to November 4, 1982. The employee admitted this fact in a statement to the CID. He also admitted that he knowingly placed Saarbrucken on the voucher as his place of lodging. His statement contains the following colloquy with the CID investigator:

"Q: Did you know at the time that you were filling out the travel voucher that you did not reside in Saarbrucken from the period 1 Sep 82 thru 4 Nov 82?

"A: Yes.

"Q: Were you aware that Saarbrucken was a higher cost of living area?

"A: I don't know, I don't believe, as I never saw a JTR until just recently and it is about $7.00 more per day.

"Q: How much time do you spend TDY with your job?

"A: About 4 months a year when I was station (sic) in the States and since I have been in Germany I spend about 10 days a month TDY."

The CID concluded that the employee committed fraud in submitting the voucher reflecting that he lodged in Saarbrucken when, in fact, he lodged in Homburg and collected $448 to which he was not entitled. Based on the CID report, the Letterkenny Army Depot, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where the employee is permanently stationed, informed him that the fraud tainted all 64 days of lodging; as a result, he was indebted to the United States for $3,328. The Army deducted the amount of $3,385.87 (with interest) from his pay.

The Mainz Army Depot, in Wiesbaden, FRG, however, as a result of an interview with the employee, concluded that he committed an "honest mistake." The employee contends that the CID misinterpreted his statement. He claims that he was not aware of different per diem rates between Saarbrucken and Homburg and that he selected Saarbrucken to avoid confusion that may have resulted if he used Homburg, since there is also a municipality in Germany named Hamburg. He also pointed out that Saarbrucken and Homburg were only 12 kilometers apart.

The employee filed a claim with the U.S. Army Finance and Accounting Center for refund of $2,937.87, which, in turn forwarded the claim to our Claims Group as a doubtful claim. When our Claims Group disallowed the claim /1/ he presented this appeal, referring for support to the opinion of the Mainz Army Depot that he had made an "honest mistake." He contends that the record does not contain sufficient evidence of fraud to overcome the presumption of honesty and fair dealing.

DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION

The general legal principles applicable to cases of alleged travel fraud are contained in 57 Comp.Gen. 664 (1978). The burden of establishing fraud rests on the party alleging it, and it must be proven with sufficient evidence to overcome the presumption of honesty and fair dealing. Where discrepancies on vouchers are minor, small in total dollar amounts, or are infrequently made, a finding of fraud would not normally be warranted, absent the most convincing contrary evidence. Where discrepancies are glaring, or involve large sums of money, or are frequently made, a finding of fraud can be made absent a satisfactory explanation by the claimant.

We conclude that the voucher submitted by the employee in this case contains a glaring discrepancy, the incorrect lodging location, which the claimant has not satisfactorily explained. The circumstances are very similar to those involved in Fraudulent Travel Voucher, B-217989, Sept. 17, 1985. There, we held that evidence indicating that the employee placed an incorrect lodging location on his voucher sustained the agency's burden of proof of fraud. In that case, as in this one, another employee as well as hotel records provided the undisputed evidence of the claimant's actual lodging location. We concluded there that the employee's claim was properly disallowed.

Here the employee's explanation of the discrepancy is not satisfactory. The statement that he was not aware of different per diem rates conflicts with the uncertainty expressed to the CID investigator on that point. light of the substantial amount of TDY that he performs, his travel experience justifies an inference that he was at least aware that different per diem rates may apply to different locations. The fact that Saarbrucken and Homburg may be only 12 kilometers apart is of questionable relevance in light of the fact that they are distinct municipalities and the employee has acknowledged that he knew he stayed in Homberg, not Saarbrucken.

Where an employee submits a travel voucher on which claims are based on fraud, each day is considered separately, and fraud on any day taints the entire claim for that day. See B-217989, supra. Since the employee's claims for lodging on each of the 64 days were based on fraud, the Army properly collected the entire amount of per diem that would have been authorized in addition to the overpayment.

Accordingly, disallowance of the employee's claim for refund is sustained.

/1/ Settlement Certificate, Z-2864878, Feb. 29, 1988.