Top-Level County Official Fired for Skimming Travel Rewards

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.

Like so:

Vartanian Expense

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.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

10 Comments

    • VERY GOOD question.. all SCC employees pay a portion of their earnings into the retirement plan through PERS, so he will probably recover at least the portion he paid in. If they would have actually investigated this scheme when it was reported to the main office back in October of 2010, they could have stopped it then. But they assigned the investigation to the then director of DCSS (now retired) who was a personal friend of Vartanian’s besides being his boss, so nothing was done to stop him. Could the former director have been in on this misuse as well???

      • Excellent questions! Will the former director get a pension? He was fired, so a pension isn’t in order. Let’s hope not at least.

        Was the former director in on the rewards and miles scheme? He and other buddies of his most certainly benefited from numerous trips and cruises all over the world. Will the County take further action against those who benefited from the accumulated rewards and miles? Remains to be seen.

        It’s a shame that the county paid a public official and department head a $235k salary + $100k in benefits to run an agency, yet he spent most of his time as a travel agent. He spent the rest of his time lying to staff about even the most inconsequential matters. His mode of operende was to divide and conquer. Lying and cheating are unbecoming behaviors that don’t belong in a workplace.

        Thankfully, the County didn’t send him to Reward Points Rehab, then back to work to lie and cheat some more.

  1. Were the see no evil folks who took 13 years to uncover this the same ones that took so long to catch George Shirakawa? Does the ineptitude at the County never end?

  2. Hard -boiled John-ster Vartainian glorifying his reputation thief, mugger and gangster, Really really,, this is early conditioning from the cradle,, juvienile delinquents can be cured by love, However, the light is on and everyone can see JV you !,,Pay us back every cent and dig Deeper into his circle where there is not to Wonder just PROSECUTE !

  3. It’s always these high level county execs that give county and public employee’s a bad name. Whether you are talking about exuberant salaries or doing scams to profit a little more as if their $250K salary wasn’t enough. An Avg. Public employee probably makes $60K per year.

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