Target 11 investigates: Taxpayers paying for county employees collect calls



PITTSBURGH - A Target 11 investigation uncovered an Allegheny County employee was accepting collect calls at work, but taxpayers were footing the bill.

The employee works at the Allegheny County Public Defender’s Office.

Investigator Rick Earle confirmed she accepted 136 calls from a friend incarcerated at the Allegheny County Jail.

“This is totally unacceptable,” said County Councilman Matt Drozd. “We all know you can't use taxpayer money for your own personal use.”

Public Defender Elliot Howsie said he could not comment about a personnel issue, so Earle asked County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who appointed Howsie last year.

“It's a very serious offense,” said Fitzgerald. “So director Howsie is making sure these types of things don't occur.”

A spokesperson for Allegheny County told Target 11 the calls were made during a six-month period, and they were only detected when another employee answered her phone.

The spokesperson said the employee has been disciplined and ordered to repay the money, $387.71.

The spokesperson would not reveal what disciplinary action the employee received, causing Drozd to question the punishment.

“Was the reprimand enough?” he asked. ”Did it go far enough?”

Fitzgerald said they will look into whether the employee should have been terminated, but he is confident the discipline handed out is proper.

Target 11 has learned the Public Defender’s Office has since installed a new system to better track incoming and outgoing calls so this does not happen again.