Aldermen demand answers to how $500K was stolen from Parks Dept.

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - The way the St. Louis City Parks Department makes purchases is being scrutinized by aldermen Wednesday.

Reporter Dan Gray was at the hearing that addressed the theft of a$500,000 by two parks department employees.

The money that was spent for the upkeep of Forest Park and other city parks ended up in the pockets of two employees.

Chief Park Ranger Thomas 'Dan' Stritzel and Deputy Parks Commissioner Joseph Vacca pleaded guilty to diverting funds to fake companies for seven years until they were caught earlier this year. They will be sentenced in federal court December 12.

Wednesday, the Aldermanic Parks Commiitee wanted answers from the head of the parks department as to how this could happen and how to prevent it in the future.  The parks director explained that Stritzel and Vacca overcharged two legitimate vendors for services and passed the money back to two sham companies controlled by the two men.  From 2005 to 2011 the men stole nearly $500,000.

The parks director said new safeguards have been put in place to avoid fraud in the future.  The U.S. Attorney said the scheme was sophisticated and difficult to uncover because high level officials were involved.  The theft was discovered by either an employee or a vendor who notified the FBI.  The U.S. Attorney provided documents to the committee that aldermen said they wanted to study before recommending changes in purchases and contracts by the parks department.

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