The city of Miami Beach wanted booming tourism and bearable traffic for the holidays, but instead it has a heist to solve: Someone has stolen $3.6 million from a city bank account.
And it seems the person, persons or entity — even Russian hackers are suspected, which is not as far-fetched as it would have been a while back — that pulled off the job did it with ease, using a routine method. The money was moved out of the account the same way many people allow their bank to make automatic monthly payments to pay monthly bills. Smooth.
The city and law-enforcement need to get to the bottom of this quickly and assure taxpayers that administrators are on top of it. After all, this is the second time in just over a year that city funds have been misused.
City Manager Jimmy Morales says that someone accessed one of the city’s SunTrust Bank accounts and illegally set up an automatic transfer to other banks. Within months, $3.6 million in taxpayer money had been pilfered.
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Which begs the obvious question: Shouldn’t someone in the audit/finance department have noticed?
Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine told the Editorial Board on Thursday that he largely blames the bank, not the city administration, for allowing the massive fraud of money to continue for so long.
“Our account was hacked, just like the Democratic Party’s emails were hacked during the presidential election. This is happening to companies and other cities.
“These are international rings committing this fraud,’’ Mayor Levine said.
But he promised: “The city of Miami Beach will get back every cent stolen.”
The mayor said there is “no indication that this is an inside job.”
Really? Why the quick exoneration of city staffers? All avenues of inquiry must be diligently pursued. The city’s financial department has had a troubled past. Last year, two of its administrators were forced to resign after it was discovered that they manipulated paid vacation and sick time to boost payouts when they left the city.
“The administration needs to show accountability for this robbery,” Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez told the Editorial Board board. Absolutely.
For now, the city accepted the resignation of two finance department employees who should have noticed the ongoing withdrawals from the account, which held money from permit fees and water bills.
“I don’t think we could have prevented this, but we should have caught it sooner,” Mr. Morales told the Miami Herald on Wednesday. He’s right.
The mayor says he is confident the manager has now set up roadblocks to prevent anything like this from happening again, including instituting a daily review and reconciliation of all non-check disbursements. But the city must also find out why internal controls failed to catch the problem immediately.
Mr. Morales said the city has sent claims to the banks that received the transfers to get the funds returned. We hope this goes as smoothly as the theft, but the city likely has a fight on its hands.
And let’s hope the mayor’s presumption that this is an outside job is correct. The mayor, as any mayor would, likes to paint a pretty picture of his famous city. It’s called damage control.
Regardless, Miami Beach has even more explaining to do to its taxpaying residents.