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Investigation into $80K unaccounted gift cards underway in Portsmouth

Investigation into $80K unaccounted gift cards underway in Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – Tuesday, Portsmouth City Manager Tonya Chapman revealed an investigation is underway, looking into $80,000 worth of gift cards for residents that are unaccounted.

This money is federal funds related to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help people recover during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Tuesday’s work session, city council members had lots of questions for Chapman. The timeline of these vents started before Chapman started as Portsmouth’s city manager.

According to Chapman, in April 2022, more than $3.2 million was spent buying gift cards with federal funds. Chapman said these tried to cover the senior care initiative and universal basic income payments.

Eventually, Chapman stated they found out the gift cards were unsecured in an employee’s office.

City officials worked with the City Treasurer and Portsmouth Police to try and account for cards and put them in a secure location. After that, officials found out there were $2.3 million left in gift cards, with expiration dates of May 2023 and August 2023.

Later in Tuesday’s work session, Chapman revealed to city council members, after further investigation by the interim chief financial officer (CFO), $80,000 of these gift cards were unaccounted.

Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover asked if there was a check and balance with these gift cards.

Chapman responded, saying they have some documentation of cards, but the issue is still under investigation.

When Mayor Glover asked Chapman how long it will take to find out where that money went, Chapman responded that the city needs to do an independent assessment.

“We need to do an independent assessment of our ARPA funds, as well as other issues that were relayed to you all individually to have an independent firm come and do a deep dive. because we’re talking $80,000 worth of $100 cards,” Chapman said.

One city council member, Bill Moody, had a lot of questions for Chapman. He said he just learned about the gift cards during Tuesday’s work session. Moody also asked Chapman why there was a wait on a forensic audit.

“There’s a process,” Chapman said. “I would need to get the cost for the forensic audit, then I would need to come back to council to get approval, depending on how much that cost is. I’ve turned the matter over to the proper authorities, they’re doing their investigation, so no one’s waiting.”

Moody also emphasized a sense of urgency for the forensic audit, with the May deadline looming when some of those cards are set to expire.

Chapman also emphasized the need to distribute the gift cards as soon as possible.

Her recommendation is through ROC the Block, distributing the cards to people in neighborhoods meeting ARPA guidelines.

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