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Whitehall Man Arrested for Selling COTA Bus Passes Intended for Low-income and Homeless School Children
Columbus – A Whitehall man who sold stolen Columbus Area Transit Authority (COTA) bus passes to an undercover COTA investigator was arrested today and charged with telecommunications fraud. The passes, stolen from the Columbus City Schools transportation department, were intended for district students from low-income households, those who are homeless, or those involved in the district’s intern program.
The Ohio Auditor of State’s office, working in conjunction with COTA security and Columbus City School District’s Internal Auditor, conducted the four-month investigation which led to the arrest of Jason S. Morris, 31, of Baywood Street, Whitehall. Further evidence will be presented to Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office with a request for additional charges.
According to investigators, Morris sold four COTA bus passes for $100 in a sting operation after advertising them for sale on a website. The passes, which were individually valued at $62, had earlier been sold to the Columbus City Schools as part of a $60,000 purchase of monthly bus passes. Investigators said Morris received at least 100 stolen passes valued at more than $6,000 from a Columbus schools employee assigned to the transportation department. The individual was removed from her position today.
“Theft of tax dollars bothers me greatly; stealing bus passes from homeless and low-income kids infuriates me, and should anger all hard-working Ohioans,” Auditor Dave Yost said. “These facts warrant a one-way bus pass to jail.”
Carolyn Smith, internal auditor for the Columbus City Schools, said her staff will be examining the controls on the COTA pass program, estimated to cost the district about $500,000 this year.
COTA first became aware the stolen passes were being offered for sale and contacted the school district. The district then contacted the Auditor of State to assist in the investigation.
Auditor Yost thanked COTA, the Columbus and Whitehall police departments, and the Columbus Schools’ internal auditing staff for their assistance and cooperation in the investigation and the arrest of Morris.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,900 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.