Money, food taken from city kitchen

Employees implicated in thefts from local homeless

Updated: Tuesday, 22 Feb 2011, 10:55 PM EST
Published : Tuesday, 22 Feb 2011, 10:55 PM EST

Producer Kevin Rothstein

BOSTON (FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) - Boston police are investigating the city's health department after an internal investigation revealed evidence of theft and misconduct at a city shelter for the homeless.

The program under scrutiny is called Serving Ourselves, which is exactly what the city’s investigation found their employees doing – helping themselves by stealing food and money.

The Boston Public Health Commission, which runs the shelter and the kitchen training program on Long Island, fired the kitchen manager and found eight other employees acted inappropriately, including the kitchen manager's supervisor.

“I'm going to acknowledge that this is a problem. It's something that I apologize for, it having happened certainly under my leadership,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the commission.

The problem was discovered in September after an employee came forward to say money collected from workers buying lunch had disappeared.

“The person that's in charge of turning in the receipts noticed that money was missing. She went to the kitchen manager who told her she didn't need to worry about it. He then told her that he had borrowed the money but he was going to replace it,” Ferrer said.

Kitchen manager John Fell, who was fired, allegedly borrowed money to bail his daughter out of jail.

Ferrer says the commission knows that $1,600 in cash has disappeared.

The investigation into Fell, and the extent of the alleged wrongdoing, quickly expanded.

“It really became apparent that there were other problems and other activities that were happening under the direction of the kitchen manager that were really inappropriate and, in fact we would allege, that they were illegal,” Fell said.

An internal investigation conducted by the commission says Fell ordered "food for his personal consumption at the commission's expense."

In an e-mail, Fell writes "call and order me 1 case of ribs and flap meat, It's for my sons party".

The report also accuses Fell of using commission meat, including steak and ribs, for years during football season for tailgating parties.

“Under his very poor leadership and poor management he allowed and tolerated and in fact I think created a culture that is unacceptable,” said Ferrer.

In the internal report, employees admitted receiving everything from "filet, ribs, and turkey." to a wedding cake, all at the commission's expense.

Another employee even billed the commission for all the food for his wedding -- $2,135.65 worth.

The kitchen manager worked at the shelter for 16 years and was fired after he wouldn't cooperate with the internal investigation.

“Could this have gone on for 16 years?” asked FOX Undercover reporter Mike Beaudet.

“I would think anything is possible but I think that scenario is unlikely,” replied Ferrer.

“The truth is, you don't know how long this was going on?” asked Beaudet.

“Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And we're looking into it and you'll see we've given you a 55-page report. We've turned over every record, we've looked at every single system we have … we're turning it over to Boston police to get their help on it,” said Ferrer.

The eight other employees facing disciplinary action includes the kitchen manager's boss, homeless services administrator John Christian.

The Harvard-educated Christian is no stranger to the spotlight. In the early 1990s he was dubbed the “yuppie bank robber” after the FBI linked him to a string of 21 bank robberies.

He pleaded guilty in 1992 to two of the robberies and was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison.

“I'm not going to comment on the particular histories of any of our employees or any personnel that work at the commission,” said Ferrer. “In general, I do want to make a strong statement about people who go to jail, do their time, come out, complete their parole, and are fully rehabilitated.”

In Christian's case, that rehabilitation could be in question. He admitted to the internal investigator that, "at best I am guilty of gross negligent supervision of the kitchen".

But the internal investigator's report comes down hard on Christian, pointing out the city kitchen catered a birthday party for his mother-in-law and for his sister's funeral but that Christian did not disclose that to the investigator until after another employee implicated him.

Christian then told the investigator he was sure everything was paid for, and produced e-mails and a copy of a $100 check which, the investigator noted, "he considers proof that the catering provided was paid for."

The kitchen also provided catering to a construction company where Christian told the investigator "he knew the guys".

It turns out he knew them well, He's listed in state records as the manager of the company.

The investigator says Christian "downplayed his role…in an attempt to conceal any perception of impropriety, fully aware of the ethical implication."

Asked if he was lucky to still have a job, Christian said, “Really can’t speak to you. Sorry.”

Dr. Ferrer is standing

by her decision to only fire the kitchen manager.

“Is the supervisor getting a free pass?” asked Beaudet.

“No, the supervisor's not. Nobody’s getting a free pass here. Every single person that was found during the investigation to have played a part in either gross mismanagement or illegal activity was in fact severely disciplined,” Ferrer said.

As part of that disciplinary action, the commission has suspended at least two employees. It's also making employees pay back the commission for the cost of the food they took.

Fell, the fired kitchen manager, declined to be interviewed but says he did not do anything wrong.

The commission has also instituted a number of changes including new security cameras and new procedures for handling cash.

 

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