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IG report: PBC employee tried to use position to get repair discount

A Palm Beach County employee falsified work logs, used his work vehicle for personal use and tried to intimidate a business owner into giving him an auto repair discount, according to a report from the county’s inspector general.

The report says information obtained during the IG’s investigation supports allegations that Rowan Hughes, an analyst in the county’s Environmental Resources Management Department, “threatened or intimidated members of the public by falsely identifying himself as a well field inspector and making statements that he would have to conduct a well field inspection following a business’ refusal to reduce the price of repairs to his personal vehicle.”

In his response to the IG report, Hughes does not mention the allegations that he falsified work logs or used his work vehicle for personal use. But he denied the allegation that he tried to use his position to get a discount.

He said the business owner, Ronald Cheston Sr. of Ron Cheston Automotive, “filed this false complaint against me because I challenged the bill with the credit card company.”

While Hughes has disputed the allegation that he tried to use his position to get a discount, the county appears poised to dole out discipline.

“The actions of the employee are serious and are totally unacceptable in the workplace and will not be tolerated,” Deputy County Administrator Jon Van Arnam wrote in an email to county commissioners. “Appropriate disciplinary action is being determined.”

Hughes said that, before learning what he would be charged for a new fuel injector pump for his truck, he had a conversation with Cheston’s son, who asked him what he does for a living.

“I told him I worked with the guys who do fuel tanks and well field inspections,” Hughes said.

The IG report notes that Hughes does not conduct inspections.

“Other than to say he chose a relatable section, Mr. Hughes was unable to explain why he did not divulge his actual responsibilities to Mr. Cheston, Sr. and/or Mr. Cheston, Jr. and chose to claim that his responsibilities involved ‘fuel station and well field inspections.’ ”

The report says a deputy director in Hughes’ department, Daniel Bates, said Hughes told him he asked Cheston Automotive if it provided “government discounts.”

“Following their conversation, Mr. Bates stated that Mr. Hughes appeared to have realized that he should not have asked for a discount and then advised him that he was reporting the incident in case Mr. Cheston, Sr. should make a complaint,” the report states.

In his response letter, Hughes said he was charged $2,700 for a fuel injector pump, a part he said he could purchase elsewhere for $1,200.

Still, Hughes said he paid the bill in full.

“For me, that would have been the end of the matter except that when I went back later to pick up my vehicle I could not drive it home, as the vehicle was not working when put under a load,” he wrote. “I could not get up to 20 miles per hour.”

Hughes said he returned the truck to Cheston, telling him that the pump was not working. Hughes said the shop owner told him he would charge him for the removal of the pump and that he would not accept it back if removed by another repair shop.

“Further attempts to resolve this was matter was unfruitful,” Hughes wrote, adding that he later “contacted my credit card company to dispute the charge for the pump.”

Cheston, he said, told him he was “going to file a complaint against me with the county.”

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