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Former CEO of transit system pleads guilty to fraud charge

September 10, 2018

PHOENIX (AP) — The former chief executive of metro Phoenix’s mass transit system pleaded guilty Monday to a fraud charge for falsely claiming personal expenses for him and his wife as business costs.

Stephen Banta pleaded guilty to the felony charge as the state’s Office of the Auditor General released a report saying Banta claimed that $32,000 in personal travel, meal and alcohol costs for him and his wife were expenses related to his work. The plea deal calls from him to be sentenced to probation.

Banta served as Valley Metro’s chief executive from early 2010 until late 2015. He resigned after The Arizona Republic reported that he incurred thousands of dollars of questionable expenses paid with public money.

Banta’s attorney, Frederick Petti, didn’t return a phone call Monday afternoon seeking comment on behalf of his client.

The auditor’s report said Banta was paid $22,000 by Valley Metro Rail to cover expenses from 48 trips that he and his wife made to Portland, Oregon, over a two-year period ending in July 2012. Three-fourths of the $22,000 went to flights and ground-transportation costs on 16 trips taken by Banta’s wife.

“Although Mr. Banta had already moved to Phoenix, he claimed these travel expenses were related to his relocation from Portland to Phoenix and directed subordinate employees to pay them with VMR (Valley Metro Rail) monies,” the report said.

The travel in question occurred during the college graduation of Banta’s son and during the birthdays for Banta and his son.

Banta also used a work credit card or filed false expense reports to cover $10,000 in meal expenses for him and his wife, according to the report.

The auditors said Banta claimed that transit officials attended 31 of the 41 meals, but the officials in question say they weren’t present during those encounters.

“In fact, two reported that Mr. Banta asked them to lie to reporters about their attendance, another two stated they had not dined with Mr. Banta in several years, and one stated he had never met Mr. Banta,” the report said.

Banta claimed the 10 remaining meals were for business purposes, but the transit officials at those events considered the meals to be social events, not related to business. He also caused Valley Metro, which has a policy of not paying for the expenses for an employee’s spouse or family member, to unknowingly pay for his wife’s expense at eight of the meals because he didn’t list her as sharing those meals.

Sentencing for Banta is scheduled for Nov. 7.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bit.ly/2GGWEPO.

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