Read as much as you want on BostonGlobe.com, anywhere and anytime, for just 99¢.

Investigator wants criminal charges in GSA event

Cites possibility that big spending included bribes; Official takes Fifth at hearing

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“We do have other ongoing investigations including all sorts of improprieties,” Inspector General Brian Miller said.

WASHINGTON - The General Services Administration investigator who revealed a wild agency spending spree said Monday he is looking into possible bribery and kickbacks, and has already recommended criminal charges to the Justice Department.

Inspector General Brian Miller made clear that he is not done investigating GSA current and former officials, after his lengthy report April 2 on an October 2010 Las Vegas conference that cost taxpayers $823,000.

Continue reading below

The regional executive who hosted the Western Regions Conference, Jeffrey Neely, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent Monday, and his chair remained empty for the rest of the hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform panel.

He could face a criminal investigation.

“We do have other ongoing investigations including all sorts of improprieties, including bribes, possibly kickbacks,’’ Miller told the committee. He added later, “We have recommended criminal charges.’’

The GSA, which manages property and purchases goods and services for other government agencies, held its gathering at the M Resort Spa Casino in Nevada.

The conference included breakfasts for $44 a person, more than triple the $12-a-person government allowance for Las Vegas, according to the inspector general’s report.

Its outlays also included $8,130 to print yearbooks for participants and $6,325 for commemorative coins, according to the inspector general. Toward the end of the 3 1/2-hour hearing, GSA chief of staff Michael Robertson said he had informed the White House of the inspector general’s preliminary findings last year.

Robertson testified that he told a White House lawyer, Kim Harris, about the report shortly after May 2011 “when I became aware that the IG had briefed [then-GSA administrator Martha] Johnson.’’

The White House had no immediate comment.

Committee members from both parties sometimes shouted out their outrage over the spending, raging not only about the overall figure, but also at specific taxpayer expenditures for a mind-reader, overpriced commemorative coins, bicycles for a team-building exercise, and trips by GSA employees and their family members to the Las Vegas strip.

Lawmakers said they could not understand why Johnson, the agency head who resigned after Miller’s findings became public, waited months to take action after receiving a preliminary report almost a year earlier.

And they demanded to know why Johnson granted Neely a $9,000 bonus after learning of the conference.

“I gave that $9,000 bonus because I was focused on performance . . . the recommendation came from the buildings commissioner,’’ Johnson said.

Johnson, who said she resigned to allow the GSA to fix its problems under new leadership, said she was “extremely aggrieved by the gall of a handful of people to misuse federal tax dollars, twist contracting rules, and defile the great name of the General Services Administration.’’

She said she learned after taking office that the Western Regions Conference “had evolved into a raucous, extravagant, arrogant, self-congratulatory event.’’

Before she resigned, Johnson fired two top deputies. Since then, Neely and seven others were placed on administrative leave.

David Foley, deputy commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, said he was sorry that he participated in an awards ceremony at the conference, which became a viral video on social media.

He made a joking reference at the ceremony to US Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democrat from the District of Columbia, and presented an award to a GSA staff member who made a rap video that made fun of the spending at the conference.

Previously, Neely had told investigators that a $2,700 party he threw in his Las Vegas hotel suite was an employee-awards event, according to a transcript of the interview.

“This is an award recognition ceremony . . . ’’ Neely told an internal investigator. “That’s what this was. That’s . . . not a Neely party right. I actually . . . it was in a suite that wasn’t even mine.’’

The investigator then confronted Neely with his e-mail saying that he and his wife “are hosting a party in our loft room. There will be wine and beer and some munchies . . .’’ There was no mention of awards.

When Neely insisted again it was an awards event, the skeptical investigator told him, “You realize how this looks?’’

“I get it that it looks funny,’’ Neely said.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, was the first of at least four congressional committees that have scheduled hearings this week on the GSA’s conference spending spree.

The others are the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee.

Issa has requested governmentwide data about the cost and frequency of agency-funded overnight conferences and the individuals hired to plan those events.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week