State launches investigation into JAUNT’s “troubling” spending, funding paused

Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 5:57 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - What started out as a JAUNT audit after some pricey spending has evolved into a state investigation.

JAUNT will not be getting any state or federal funds while the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and the offices of the Attorney General and State Inspector General dig into the situation.

“We welcome the investigation. We’re fully committed to cooperating,” JAUNT Director of Public Relations Jody Saunders said. “We’re actually looking forward to any additional suggestions they might have... but, you know, let’s be realistic, this is a pretty big misstep.”

Former JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield resigned in December after an audit revealed he spent tens of thousands of dollars on upscale business trips.

Click here to see the documents detailing the expenses

“This has been going on for quite a while,” Saunders said. “From the minute that our auditors started saying, ‘hey, this feels a little bit like a little too much spent on a hotel or an airfare’ or what have you, to the deep-dive investigation, to the requesting of Mr. Sheffield’s resignation.”

Saunders says Sheffield claims he used private contracts to pay for it all and never touched federal, state, and local funds.

However, in a statement to NBC29, the DRPT said “the initial findings are troubling and show a disregard by agency leadership for operating in the best public interest.”

Saunders says the freeze on funding will not affect JAUNT’s day-to-day bus service.

“The types of capital funding that they froze while they complete this investigation had more to do with capital projects, basically,” she said. “For example, our parking lot needs repaving and that isn’t going to happen right now, but it won’t impact our ability to continue to serve our clients.”

Saunders says staff at JAUNT are trying to rebuild community trust and pick up the pieces.

“Our interim CEO Karen Davis and our chief financial officer, in concert with our board, have been working very hard really since December since Mr. Sheffield left to put those guardrails in place to ensure this can’t happen again,” Saunders said.

Charlottesville City Council plans to request a meeting with JAUNT soon. The city gave JAUNT around $1.4 million before the spending happened.

Full Department of Rail and Public Transportation Statement on JAUNT investigation:

“DRPT is currently conducting an independent review of the utilization of federal and state funding provided by the Commonwealth to Jaunt. The purpose of this review is to ensure Jaunt used all federal and state funding in an appropriate manner and in compliance with all federal and state laws and regulations. While the review is still underway, the initial findings are troubling and show a disregard by agency leadership for operating in the best public interest. DRPT has put Jaunt’s current capital and technical assistance grant awards on hold until the review is completed and any findings are addressed. DRPT is working with the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the State Inspector General to determine the appropriate next steps.”

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