Dept. Head Got Travel Perks, Now Put on Leave

Santa Clara County has placed one department head on paid administrative leave following an NBC Bay Area investigation into his travel spending. The public official was racking up travel rewards points on the county’s dime

The Director of Santa Clara County’s Department of Child Support Services has been placed on paid administrative leave effective Tuesday after an NBC Bay Area investigation into his travel spending.

A county press release says he will remain out of the office pending the completion of a county investigation. In the meantime, the county executive’s office will oversee the day to day operations of the department. It reads:

"The County of Santa Clara announced that it is investigating allegations - of inappropriate travel payment practices - against Department of Child Support Services Director John Vartanian.  The Board of Supervisors takes these allegations seriously, and has placed Vartanian on administrative leave with pay"

Last week, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed Director John Vartanian racking up credit card and hotel rewards points on the county’s dime. The Investigative Unit obtained travel documents dating back to 2008 through a public information request that show Vartanian charged more than $55,000 in hotel costs and registration fees on his personal credit cards for more than 30 employees.

Santa Clara County policy states that employees may use their own credit cards if they don’t have a county-issued card. But the records show Vartanian even paid for those who had county-issued cards.

Moreover, county policy clearly disallows earning personal travel benefits with public money:

“Frequent flyer credits earned by county employees for travel on County business should be applied toward future county travel. Please note that personal use of airline frequent flyer mileage credit earned on County business is a taxable fringe benefit to the employee pursuant to the IRS regulations, and County has no intention to provide such fringe benefits.”

Vartanian has been with the county for 13 years and was appointed director last year.

The Investigative Unit requested an interview with Vartanian last week and again today after the announcement. The county says he has declined to comment to due to the ongoing investigation.

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