Bonus Points Controversy: New Records Show More Charges, Employees Knew

New internal documents obtained by the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit show the Director of Santa Clara County’s Department of Child Support Services charged more than just travel to his personal credit card to rack up rewards points

Santa Clara County’s Director of Child Support Services, John Vartanian, is currently on administrative leave and is being investigated by the county after an NBC Bay Area report last month showed he charged over $55,000 on travel for 30+ employees since 2008 on his personal rewards credit card. He collected points, then the county reimbursed him. New documents show Vartanian charged more than just travel. Internal emails reveal the department’s fiscal director may have known about the practice.

This week NBC Bay Area obtained records of all reimbursements- not just travel- to Vartanian going back a decade through a Public Records Act request.

The documents show Vartanian charged a total of $162,330.48 to his personal credit card since August, 2003, collecting rewards points, and then getting reimbursed by the county.

Several of those charges were for employee parking. Vartanian charged a total of $49,050 on parking spaces for employees in downtown lots, since 2003. That includes a one-time payment of $18,000 put on his credit card in July of 2009 for a year’s worth of parking as well as several other smaller payments.

Vartanian was also reimbursed a total of $2,974.97 for office supplies.

“It makes me sick to my stomach to even think, why he would do that,” said a current DCSS employee who asked to remain anonymous to avoid affecting the employee’s work. The employee contacted the Investigative Unit after the original report, wanting to speak out. “People need to speak up and it’s time, it’s past time because this will continue if no one says anything,” the employee said.

“I go to work there to do a good job and we’re public servants,” the employee continued. “That’s just very shameful. He should be ashamed of himself.”

The Investigative Unit also requested Vartanian’s e-mails related to travel over the last few years. Thousands of pages reveal a lot of time spent on booking travel, discussing personal trips and bonus points with employees. The documents show that the department’s fiscal officer may have known about his practice.

In one e-mail Vartanian writes, “getting an extra hotel night is an area of my expertise”

In another, Mary Clesi, the department’s fiscal officer, emails Vartanian about booking a hotel for a personal trip saying, “I hope you can earn points for a stay there.”

Other documents show Clesi’s county credit card paying for a business trip, but Vartanian’s hotel rewards number is entered so he gets points. 

“To know there are other people involved besides Vartanian that work in that office, it just doesn’t feel good to have to be there and know that all this dirtiness is going on,” the anonymous employee said about e-mails with Clesi.

“I hope these people are held accountable for what they’ve done because it’s not right and it’s not fair to anyone in that office.”

NBC Bay Area reached out to the county, but a county spokesperson said the county refrains from commenting on ongoing investigations.

According to the County Board of Supervisors agenda for closed session this Monday, Oct. 6, Vartanian’s employee performance evaluation will be discussed.

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