An 18-month audit released today by Comptroller Scott Stringer's office found that former and current presidents of the Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL) spent $310,000 on gas, meals, and booze—not to mention ashtrays and tickets to Disney Land—between 2011 and 2014, using library-issued credit cards.
During the same time period, even as City funding for the QBPL increased (from $107.6 million in 2008, to $111.2 million in 2013), weekly operating hours in the already decrepit branch libraries dropped by an average of four hours per week, and bonuses issued to managerial staff rose almost 7 percent.
$260,000 of the shoddy credit card charges are traceable to former QBPL president Thomas Galante, who was fired by the library's board of trustees last December, and has long been viewed by some as a shady character. In early 2014, it came to light that while the library's main Jamaica branch stood in a state of perpetual disrepair, Galante, who enjoyed a $390,000 annual salary, allegedly used taxpayer money to renovate his office, and construct a smoking deck.
This, it seems, was just the tip of the iceberg. The audit documents $5,588 in miscellaneous credit card purchases made by Galante, including a $100 parking ticket, $1,963 for four tickets to a Maroon 5 concert, two $99 Apple-TV devices, and $100 in "speciality" ashtrays—plus $20 for expedited shipping. These expenditures might only be topped in hilarity by a $479 bill for his recurring New York Times digital subscription.
“Our audit... uncovered a sickening track record of waste, fraud and abuse,” Comptroller Stringer said in a statement. “Tom Galante used the Queens Library as his personal piggybank.”
What's more, the brazen ex-president wasn't even careful about documenting his bogus charges. According to Stringer's office:
On the evening of Friday April 13, 2012, a day on which the CEO used leave vacation time, the CEO used a Library credit card to pay for $152.95 in expenses to Tir Na Nog Irish Bar and Grill in Times Square, New York. The CEO wrote a note on the receipt stating, "Mtg w/ elected official rep prior to show."
According to the audit, 13 executive QBPL employees are given credit cards to pay for "actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of work-related duties of the Library.” But auditors found that between July 2007 and December 2013, not one of Galante's credit card expenditures, which totaled $670,004, got QBPL approval before it was paid off.
Decadent habits seemed to have rubbed off on other staff and board members, as well. For example, between July 2012 and June 2013, at least $877 went towards "alcoholic beverages consumed during ten trustee meals, held for the stated purpose of discussing Library business."
The QBPL also failed to keep track of weekly work hours clocked by upper management—a boon for Galante, who moonlighted as a consultant for Elmont Union Free School District (for an additional $150,000 and $200,000 annually) often on days when he claimed to be working at the library.
According to Stringer's findings, Bridget Quinn-Carey, Galante's interim successor and the QBPL's former COO, also failed to take the moral high ground. Both Quinn-Carey and Galante allegedly filled their work cars (yes, public library executives get work cars) with thousands of dollars in gasoline, on non-work-related car trips in 2012 and 2013—$12,396 in fuel for Galante, and $4,151 in fuel for Quinn-Carey.
In the wake of today's release, Stringer's office is calling on the library's board of trustees to keep a much closer eye on upper management, and to revise its timekeeping policy. In response, the QBPL blandly stated that "new policies and procedures have been reviewed, revised and implemented to ensure compliance with the Library's mission.”