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Exclusive: State employee in charge of $10B in contracts misused taxpayer money

Neva Peckham, a contract specialist in the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, repeatedly used her state-issued travel card for personal purchases, including a visit to a nail salon. At the time, Peckham managed a $10 billion contract for credit cards issued by the state. (Photo: Brandi Kruse/KIRO Radio)

An employee who was in charge of billions of dollars in contracts for the state of Washington still has her job after using her state-issued travel card for personal purchases such as groceries and a trip to a nail salon, KIRO Radio has learned.

Neva Peckham, a contract specialist in the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services, was in charge of awarding $10,896,190,903 worth of contracts, including those involving state-issued credit and travel cards.

According to documents obtained through public disclosure after a source within DES brought the misuse to KIRO Radio’s attention, Peckham repeatedly used her state-issued travel card in and around Olympia from January 2012 to June 2012. Unauthorized purchases included multiple trips to grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants. She also spent $30.00 during a visit to a nail salon and spa in McCleary, Wash.

The total amount of unauthorized purchases was $658.63.

Peckham was warned about personal use of her card in June of last year when it came to the department’s attention, but used it five additional times for personal purchases the following month, according to documents.

“Personal use of your issued state travel card is considered a serious violation of ethics in public service, state statutory and administrative requirements regarding use of state funds,” Roselyn Marcus, assistant director for contacts and legal services, wrote to Peckham in a letter dated Oct. 8, 2012. “Accordingly, this type of violation seriously reflects on your ethics, your knowledge, our division, and the agency.”

Peckham not only managed the state credit card program at the time of the misuse, but helped the Office of Financial Management write administrative and accounting policies surrounding card use, according to a DES memo. She also worked with U.S. Bank to “guide agencies on avoiding fraud.”

“It’s an ethical violation,” said DES Spokesperson Steve Valandra. “It’s a serious matter for this agency and I think any state agency.”

As a result of the misuse, Peckham is in the process of being transferred from her duties handling the state’s credit card contracts. She now manages more than $230 million in contracts for state-owned vehicles.

Her state-issued travel card has been cancelled.

A source within DES believes Peckham should have been fired.

“She violated the trust of her superiors, the agency, the people of the state of Washington,” the source told KIRO Radio. “There are a lot of good people that are out of work right now that are trustful and honest and I’m sure they’d love to trade places with her.”

Valandra said Peckham is a valued employee who simply “made a mistake.”

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