The Santa Clara County official who racked up travel benefits on the public dime was finally “released” into the wild, probably armed with enough rewards points to fly away to some exotic corner of the earth.
In actuality, John Vartanian, director of the Department of Child Support Services until being put on leave in early September, was fired. The county sent out a press release Tuesday announcing that it had “released” him from the position, which sounds a bit dramatic.
NBC Bay Area uncovered Vartanian’s scheme, which involved charging work trips on his personal credit cards, getting reimbursed, but keeping the rewards. While that’s totally fine for some companies, the county forbids the practice. All rewards points have to go back to the county to help cover future work trips.
The most brazen part of the whole racket was that Vartanian earned points gleaned from other employees’ travel. In fact, he embedded the practice into the administrative process, creating a line on travel forms that directed hotels and airlines to charge the expense to his personal credit card.
During his 13 years at the county, Vartanian positioned himself as an expert in the travel rewards game. He even attended at least one conference dedicated to teaching people how to garner the highest possible amount of travel benefits. NBC found that he paid for travel for at least 30 employees, putting hotel bills and flight tickets on his personal cards.
The Board of Supervisors will appoint an acting director in Vartanian’s place. Since he was placed on paid leave prior to his “release,” Deputy County Executive Sylvia Gallegos has provided oversight for his department.
The county appears to have its hands full with personnel investigations. Another top-level official, Public Guardian Don Moody, was placed on paid leave in the wake of a grand jury report that pointed to widespread dysfunction under his watch.
Because both are personnel matters, the county has declined to comment on each case.