Before being hired by Alexandria government, embezzler raised red flags at prior posts

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Before being hired by Alexandria government, embezzler raised red flags at prior posts
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The full extent of Timothy Wanamaker’s criminal activity wasn’t known until just recently, but top officials in Buffalo, N.Y., publically raised questions about his work habits long before he took a key position at Alexandria City Hall.

Wanamaker, who has since resigned as the city’s general services department’s deputy director, pleaded guilty to stealing about $30,000 in taxpayer funds while heading Buffalo’s strategic planning office between 2004 and 2008. The post gave Wanamaker purview over the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency.

Wanamaker admitted in late November to using a city-issued credit card for lavish personal travel and entertainment costs during the four-year stretch. While there was little indication about criminal wrongdoing at the time, his travel habits drew scrutiny, said Buffalo Councilman Michael LoCurto.

Buffalo’s common council requested a report of the agency’s travel expenses in March 2008, but they didn’t receive it until later in the year, after Wanamaker had left for a city manager position in California.

“He was not around a lot, which kind of raised some red flags,” LoCurto said. “We were concerned with it, but I don’t think anyone suspected that he was using it to pay for family members and expensive hotels or anything like that — that he was using the [government] credit card as a personal credit card.”

Those trips included stays in Las Vegas, Washington, D.C., and Miami, according to Wanamaker’s plea deal with federal prosecutors.

“The running joke was: What, was he going on job interviews?” said LoCurto.

Fellow common council member Michael Kearns wasn’t surprised about the revelations in Wanamaker’s plea deal. Like LoCurto, he was concerned about Wanamaker’s traveling habits. And like LoCurto, he believes Wanamaker’s record in Buffalo raised “red flags.”

“It was concerning to me that he was difficult to get hold of,” Kearns said. “There were rumors — that he wasn’t happy, he was looking to travel and used that opportunity to meet with prospective employers and that was concerning to me.”

In the meantime, Wanamaker spent two years in Inglewood, Calif. leaving in 2010 to take the general services department post in Alexandria, which paid about $112,000 annually. He applied for the job and was not recruited, Castrilli said.

The city hired Walters Consulting to perform criminal and credit history checks on Wanamaker — both came up clean — and contacted his references, Castrilli said. Walters Consulting provided the background check. The company received about $18,000 from the city to perform similar duties during a two-year period, though officials cut ties with the company in September.

Officials were aware of Wanamaker’s traveling habits, Castrilli said, which is why they performed an “extensive” reference and background check using consultants. Everything came back clear, he said.

Former general services department head Ed Manley, who has since retired, had the final say in hiring Wanamaker, according to Castrilli.

Kearns believes a quick Internet search would have raised questions about Wanamaker soon after he left Buffalo. He recalls saying as much to federal prosecutors when they approached him about a year ago.

“If anyone did a simple Google search they would have seen articles that were written when this came up [in 2008],” Kearns said. “Obviously, someone didn’t do a Google search.”

Alexandria officials are reviewing Wanamaker’s fiscal history with the city, though Wanamaker did not have access to a city-issued credit card and did not engage in business travel. The final report will be made public.

Alexandria officials also are reviewing the city’s hiring processes, including considering new policies for examining a prospective applicant’s work history.

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