« 15-year-old St. Paul girl safe after alleged abduction, Amber Alert | Main | San Francisco Bay oil spill »

MnDOT emergency management boss fired

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s emergency management boss was fired Friday after coming under scrutiny for her relationship with a high-ranking federal highway official in Washington, D.C.
Sonia Morphew Pitt, MnDOT’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management director, was accused in a department statement of “serious employee misconduct pertaining to out of state travel, misuse of state resources and conduct unbecoming to Mn/DOT.?
Pitt also came under scrutiny at the time of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse Aug. 1 in Minneapolis. At the time, she was on the East Coast attending what expense reports said was training and failed to return to Minnesota until 10 days after the incident.
The Star Tribune said that the Federal Highway Administration’s program manager for transportation security, Daniel M. Ferezan, has been questioned by a private investigator hired by MnDOT, according to Ian Grossman, the top spokesman for the U.S. Department for Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. The investigator looked into Pitt’s “whereabouts and her activities with Ferezan in the frenetic aftermath of the Aug. 1 collapse,? Grossman said.
The Tribune also quoted a “source with direct knowledge of the investigation? that said MnDOT was investigating whether Pitt traveled under false pretenses.
The same source also said investigators were looking at whether Ferezan enabled her to make trips that weren’t appropriate for her job.
Pitt, 43, and Ferezan, 61, did not return calls to the newspaper Thursday seeking comments.
The Star Tribune, whose coverage of the situation was more comprehensive than the Pioneer Press’, spoke with James Nobles, the state legislative auditor. He said Thursday that his office might pursue criminal charges against Pitt if their investigation finds that she made false claims for state money in her government position.
Nobles also said he will demand that Pitt repay the state if his investigators find she obtained or spent money illicitly. The report could be complete in two to three weeks, he said.
The Pioneer Press pointed out that a MnDOT investigation found that Pitt used her state-provided cell phone to make over 2,000 minutes of personal calls between February and June of this year and had the state pay for vacation travel, including trips to Las Vegas and Washington, D.C.
According to a separate audit report, the state first began looking into Pitt’s activities in July 2007, the Pioneer Press reported.

The Star Tribune:

Pioneer Press: