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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
A state investigator came close to losing her job in recent weeks after Ohio's inspector general uncovered evidence that she may have been driving a state-owned vehicle on personal time, FOX19 has learned.
Kimberly Pandilidis is an investigator and assistant supervisor at the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation's complex on Governor's Hill Drive in Cincinnati.
We've now confirmed, through dates provided by the inspector general, that at the time of that interview, Pandilidis knew she was under investigation for also possibly cheating the state out of money.
A whistleblower came forward to the inspector general with documents saying they showed Pandilidis was using her official state vehicle for personal use.
"I had noticed it for several years," said Doug Hunter, who used to work for Pandilidis.
In an exclusive interview with FOX19, Hunter said, "She was assigned a state vehicle. And she is primarily an office manager. She is not a field investigator. And I always questioned why they would have state vehicles."
A workers' comp spokeswoman disputes that claim, saying Pandilidis does conduct investigations out in the field and often travels to other parts of the state.
"When I had left, she had the newest vehicle," Hunter said. "That was probably a $30,000-something vehicle."
Pandilidis was allowed to take her vehicle home but it was only to be used for official business.
Yet Ohio's inspector general found that 17 times in the past few years, Pandilidis used taxpayer money to buy gasoline 60 minutes or more after she reported her work day had ended. Twice she bought fuel an hour or more before starting work.
"Mapping software determined a distance of 27 miles from Pandilidis' work headquarters to her residence," the inspector general's report said.
"Do you believe that Kimberly Pandilidis committed fraud?" FOX19 asked Inspector General Randy Meyer at his office in downtown Columbus.
"(Under) our definition here in the Ohio Inspector General's Office, she did commit fraud," Meyer said. "I mean, it was deceit in what she did."
However, he's not sending the case to prosecutors because Pandilidis' record keeping was so shoddy, he says, it's actually impossible to prove Pandilidis intended to cheat the state.
"'Intentional' is the keyword for the crime," Meyer said. "If we could've proved intent with this, that she intentionally violated the law, then it would've been a theft in office."
Although Pandilidis was happy to sit down with us last spring to criticize others, she did not respond to a letter from FOX19 requesting an interview. In addition, we asked to sit down with the administrator/CEO of Ohio's Bureau of Workers' Compensation, Stephen Buehrer. Instead, the agency only allowed us to speak with a PR person.
"There was no evidence in this report, and it was not referenced at all, that she was using the car for personal purposes," said workers' compensation PR manager, Melissa Vince.
But the report did reference the personal use of state-owned vehicles. It's on the bottom of page four and the top of page five and concludes: "This OBWC policy prohibits state-issued vehicles from being stopped, diverted or used in any manner to address any personal or non-state business matters, even if the stop requires no additional travel distance."
In our interview with Vince, we pointed out that we'd just come from the inspector general's office and he seemed to be saying that he suspects Pandilidis did use the vehicle for personal use, he just couldn't prove it.
"Ok," Vince replied. "Yeah, again, there was nothing in the report that mentioned personal use and there was no evidence of that."
Whistleblower Doug Hunter doesn't believe Pandilidis needed a state-owned car at all.
"Well, I think the taxpayers paid for at least a $30,000 vehicle that they didn't need to pay for," Hunter said.
He argues that, despite what workers' compensation says, Pandilidis spends most of her time at the Cincinnati office. That's backed up by the inspector general's report which documents 67 times when the mileage for Pandilidis' so-called "state business" equaled the mileage for her commute.
Hunter has his own issues at the Bureau of Workers' Compensation.
He was fired in 2010 over a controversy involving missing business cards that could've been used as evidence in a case involving a workers' comp recipient. The target of the investigation was accused of running a karaoke business while telling the state she was too hurt to work. Hunter maintains he did nothing wrong and is suing the agency, accusing its leaders of retaliating against him over a disagreement about how to handle cases involving undocumented workers.
In this current case, Inspector General Meyer may not be able to prove Pandilidis committed a crime but he says there's clear evidence of "wrongdoing."
"Or simply put, the way I like to say it, ‘It's any violation of common sense against the government,'" Meyer added.
Bureau of Workers' Compensation administrator, Stephen Buehrer, suspended Pandilidis for five days without pay the week before Thanksgiving. She is also losing some vacation time. And she is not allowed to take her state-owned vehicle home for at least six months.
Agency spokeswoman, Melissa Vince, says the five day suspension is just one step below being fired.