DOT audit dismissed as old news by chairman

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ATLANTA --- The chairman of the DOT board says the latest audit of the troubled transportation agency, which created quite a media stir, is a rehash of old news and that steps already have been taken to make sure the department is no longer incurring debt unconstitutionally.

One of the DOT employees singled-out by the audit, former Treasurer Earl Mahfuz, was demoted to assistant treasurer last year after an earlier audit uncovered the issue, and he is expected to reach retirement age soon and resign, said Chairman Bill Kuhlke of Augusta.

Mr. Kuhlke said another employee who was singled-out by the audit, Deputy Commissioner Buddy Gratton, resigned and now works as an executive for Moreland-Altobelli, the private Atlanta engineering firm that provides a regular home for former DOT executives.

"The fact of the matter is, to me this is old news," Mr. Kuhlke said in an interview. "It came up at the end of the last fiscal year. As a result of that, Earl was demoted to assistant treasurer. From the previous financial audit we got, we began to make changes recommended by the auditor and we've pretty much got all of those instituted."

He acknowledged that some revelations in the latest audit were new to him even if the gist of the report -- that DOT had illegally assumed debt through a quiet shift in procedures and masked the result from top state officials and legislators -- was not.

"It basically violated the Constitution," he said. "It shouldn't have happened. We took corrective action. ... It is absolutely not happening any more."

When the report was released on Monday, Gov. Sonny Perdue called on Attorney General Thurbert Baker to take "appropriate action" and declared: "This type of Enron-like accounting cannot and will not be tolerated anywhere within state government."

A spokesman for the Law Department, Russ Willard, said on Tuesday: "We received the audit yesterday evening. We currently are reviewing the audit and the inspector general's report. We will make a further statement once we have had a chance to review them."


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