by Jon Schuessler
Whenever the park rangers of St. Louis needed a radio replaced or repaired, Thomas Stritzel, their chief, would make a request to Joe Vacca, a high-level bureaucrat in the Parks Division. The request would ask a favored company to do the work. Since the amount was “small”, the job was not open to competitive bidding.
Vacca would grant the requests, all for one company to do the radio work, year after year. As long as the total for the year was under $60,000, and no single purchase was too “large”, the city’s auditors were happy.
There was just one problem: the radios in question didn’t exist. Nor did the work. Or the company.
Instead, the funds were ending up with a sham company called Dynamic Management Group. From there, the money went straight into the pockets of Stritzel and Vacca. The two men also spoke with a pair of vendors and convinced them to inflate their bills to the city. The extra money was then pocketed by Stritzel and Vacca.
The embezzling scheme began in January of 2005, and lasted for seven years. It came to a crashing end on December 31st, 2012, when a legal probe began into their activities.The Aftermath:
Late in 2013, the law finally caught up to Stritzel and Vacca. Investigation by the FBI and St. Louis police prompted the pair to plead guilty to charges of fraud.
On January 27th, 2014, they were each sentenced to 3 years in prison by a federal court, and ordered to repay the amount of $472,722.
The head of St. Louis Parks, Gary Bess, publicly apologized in 2013 and vowed to make changes in their purchasing policies.(Click here for the FBI report on the Stritzel & Vacca convictions)
Jon Schuessler is a Volunteer leader in Jefferson County, and the chairman for Missouri Volunteers for Government Reform, a Political Action Committee (PAC) of the Volunteer Movement. Click here to read his bio or contact him.