Investigators from the Austin Office of the City Auditor have released a report that shows a former employee of the Communications and Technology Management department “stole and attempted to sell a city-owned mobile device in December 2021.” That employee, Brian Cox, a former IT support analyst, resigned from the city in April 2022, thus avoiding being fired.
According to the report, which was released last week, CTM staff discovered the theft after Cox attempted to sell the device for $1,000 in an online marketplace posting. The post included a picture of what appeared to be the city-owned mobile device. Employees of CTM notified the Austin Police Department, which retrieved the device from Cox.
Cox first told police he did not have it before ultimately turning the device over to APD.
The device was described in the report as “a handheld mobile device intended for public safety staff. This device was one of 29 sent by the manufacturer to CTM’s wireless shop for field testing by staff, including Cox.” Although the city tested the devices, it did not ultimately purchase any. According to the report, the devices were provided without cost and the manufacturer evidently did not expect them to be returned.
When the audit team talked to Cox, he told them “he found the device in one of his old work bags. Cox said he decided to post the device for sale online rather than return it, because he didn’t want to deal with the ‘headache’ of returning it. Cox confirmed that he did not have permission to sell the device. He also admitted to trying to sell the device for $1,000 but denied attempting to sell any other items from the wireless shop.”
When given the opportunity to respond to the allegations, Cox did not deny taking the device and apologized for “giving the COA CTM wireless department a reason for this investigation.”
In the course of the investigation, investigators looked at CTM’s inventory records, which initially appeared to show about $29,000 of missing inventory. However, after staff did more searching, the value of the missing inventory was reduced to about $11,000. Investigators wrote, “We could not determine whether any of the missing inventory was stolen, misplaced, or in use but not properly accounted for. Separately, the wireless shop said it could not account for two of the same mobile devices that Cox attempted to sell.”
While conducting the investigation of the wireless shop inventory, auditors found “several examples of poor controls and procedures related to inventory management. Specifically, the wireless shop was not tracking demo products, like the device Cox attempted to sell, in the same manner as normally purchased inventory.” Auditors also found what they called “poor segregation of duties within the wireless shop. All wireless shop staff can receive shipments, as well as enter and remove inventory from the shop’s inventory management software. Further, once items are removed from inventory, there are no records of the items being disposed of properly. These conditions could increase the risk of theft.”
The audit team concluded that the wireless shop had addressed several of the issues noted in the report. CTM now tracks demo products in the same way it tracks purchased equipment and the department has improved how it tracks inventory.
Michael Yamma served as senior audit investigator.