ST. PETERSBURG — Mayoral candidate Kathleen Ford was asked recently which city department is the least efficient, or needs additional oversight.
After a brief pause, she offered this:
"I have some concerns about purchasing," Ford said at Monday's St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 forum. "There are so many city contracts. Millions and millions and millions of dollars are spent.
"When I was on council, someone in purchasing hired a convicted felon who embezzled funds from a bank," Ford continued. "Somehow that was missed. We need to have better contracts management."
Ford, a 52-year-old attorney, says her administration would focus on details in a way past administrations have not and offers the city's hiring of someone convicted of embezzling bank funds as an example of a lax City Hall.
Did it happen? Yes.
Erroyl C. Bing pleaded guilty in 1982 to one count of embezzlement in Tampa federal court.
According to news accounts from the time, Bing stole about $250,000 from the bank accounts of Florida Power Corp., General Telephone, the city of St. Petersburg and Times Publishing Co.
He admitted much of his wrongdoing — in court he said the money helped feed a cocaine habit — and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison.
A little more than 10 years later, the city of St. Petersburg made him the city's warehouse manager.
The city never performed a background check when it hired Bing in 1995, city officials admitted. The check likely would have uncovered the arrest.
And what became of Bing?
In 1999, he was arrested after police said he defrauded the city of almost $270,000. Police said Bing created a fake company that billed the city for goods the company never provided. Bing was able to keep the scam going for two years, police said.
In 2000, Bing was sentenced to three years in state prison, according to state records.
After the incident, the city changed its policy and performed background checks on hundreds of its employees.
We should point out that Ford didn't join the City Council until 1997, two years after Bing was hired. But we thought that's immaterial to the point Ford is trying to make.
We should also note that while an electronic record of Bing's 1982 conviction is not available, officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tampa said they believed Bing's conviction to be a felony, not a misdemeanor.
So Ford is right: The city did hire someone who had been convicted of embezzling from a bank and that person was later convicted of stealing from the city. We should note, however, that the city has since implemented a policy of performing background checks on employees. We find Ford's claim True.
Times staff researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.