By Jim Newell
The Lake Orion Police Department has arrested a North Oakland Transportation Authority employee who allegedly embezzled thousands of dollars using a NOTA gas card.
Andrea Nicole Vrsek, a 10-year NOTA employee was arrested on April 27 on one count of Embezzlement – Agent or Trustee, a 5-year felony and $10,000 fine.
Vrsek was then arraigned before 52/3 District Court Magistrate Nicholas Camargo.
She was released on a $20,000 personal bond and is scheduled to appear on May 8 at 1:15 p.m. for a probable cause conference before 52/3 District Court Judge Nancy Tolwin Carniak.
Vrsek, 35, of Novi, used a NOTA fuel card 313 times starting in August 2014 through February 2017, amassing $8,677 in unauthorized fuel charges, said Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh.
Narsh said the investigation begin Feb. 24 when NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson contacted the LOPD after an internal audit of fuel card usage revealed discrepancies.
“NOTA has been extremely cooperative. The minute they found out there was an anomaly they contacted us to begin an investigation,” Narsh said. “Fuel credit cards are assigned to a specific vehicle and authorized at the pump by a code system unique to each driver, who may only use the cards once per day.”
LOPD investigators discovered that there was another card in use, not assigned to a vehicle.
“The investigation determined that the card was assigned to senior full-time dispatcher Andrea Vrsek, who maintained the card as a back-up in the event a driver’s card failed,” Narsh said. “In addition, only Vrsek had access to a list of all the individual driver codes, in the event they forgot their code.
“Off-duty driver codes were used to activate fuel purchases on the backup card at all of the unauthorized fill ups. The majority of purchases were made out of the NOTA service area. All of the off-duty drivers were cleared of the purchases,” Narsh said.
LOPD investigators also located a surveillance video of an unauthorized purchase made at the Speedway gas station on S. Lapeer Road in Orion Township on Jan. 23, 2017. The images match the suspect and her vehicle.
Narsh said that when confronted with the evidence, Vrsek admitted to the theft, telling the investigator, “You did your job well.”
NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson did not want to comment, but did issue a statement to The Lake Orion Review:
“While changing out old fuel cards we discovered that one was unaccountable. We began researching the fuel card usage in detail online which shows more activity than the paper billing. In reviewing the records we discovered some random uses that fell outside the norm. We immediately shut down the card and started an internal investigation. During the internal investigation, we determined who we believed was responsible for the fraudulent activity. The employee was immediately suspended pending further investigation and the matter was turned over to the Lake Orion Village police department the same day (Feb 23, 2017).
“We have since instituted new policies and procedures to secure and monitor future gas card use.
“We are cooperating fully with the Lake Orion Village police department as they continue their investigation.”
NOTA, which is funded by a millage collected in the communities it serves and contributions from those communities, has since instituted new policies and procedures to secure and monitor fuel card usage.
NOTA, located on Jackson Street in Lake Orion, is a transportation service for the senior, disabled and low-income residents of Orion, Oxford and Addison Townships and the Villages of Lake Orion, Oxford and Leonard.
Since 2001, NOTA has helped people who need help getting to medical appointments, dialysis, grocery shopping, work, church, senior centers, community events or other necessary rides in the area
NOTA has 20 vehicles, 16 of which are wheelchair accessible and 26 drivers. In 2016 NOTA logged 436,000 miles providing 33,879 rides with a total budget of $1,422,943.
By Jim Newell