By Trevor Bach
By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
Victor Igwe's job used to be a joke. Just the idea of taking his job cracked him up. Igwe runs the City of Miami's Office of Internal Audits, a leadership position that was forever advertised, to many chuckles and very few takers, in the trade magazines circulated among certified public accountants.
"The ad had been around for a long time," Igwe recalls. "My colleagues and I would just look at it and laugh and say, “Who wants to go down there?'"
Igwe certainly didn't. He'd been working as a government auditor in Palm Beach County, a stable job with a professional staff committed to clean government. While the ad quietly circulated in the trades, Miami was suffering through so much financial turmoil that the governor had placed the city under state control. City managers washed out quicker than a ketchup stain. And the turmoil was nothing new: Years earlier the Office of Internal Audits had been exposed as a corrupt bastion of nepotism. The idea of voluntarily entering this miasma held little appeal for Igwe. Still he began getting calls from recruiters.
"The first time they contacted me I said no way," he affirms. Eventually, though, he was persuaded to take the challenge. And he has proven himself up to that challenge. In less than two years on the job, Igwe (pronounced E-gway) has transformed the audit office into an efficient department of muckrakers. He and his staff have identified approximately $30.7 million owed to the city, and have prompted the collection of more than $1 million of that debt already. He has earned for himself a reputation as a thoroughly professional bureaucrat who is independent, honest, and passionate about cleaning up corruption in the city. His job is a joke no more.
"He's doing a very good job," affirms Miami City Manager Carlos Gimenez. "It's the first time in a long time that the city has had a professional audit department."
"I think Victor's a tremendous person for the city to have, and I think he's doing a great job," reports Joy Intriago, a CPA and a member of a volunteer citizen advisory committee that works with the audit department. "I don't know anyone who can say anything bad about him. And that's very unusual in the City of Miami."
Igwe is 49 years old. His soft voice reflects his Nigerian heritage and his London upbringing, but perhaps thankfully, none of his higher education, on scholarship, in Houston, Texas. In addition to being a CPA (the last two directors of the audit department did not have that distinction), he's also been certified as an internal auditor and holds a doctorate in business administration. Brushing a hand across the lapels of gray pinstripe suit during an interview in the seventh-floor conference room at Riverside Center, he expands upon his passion to root out corruption.
"We in the public service are caretakers," he explains. "It's my job to make sure nobody's taking advantage of the caretaker position to enrich themselves. That's one reason why I decided to become an auditor. I believe that people should be held to the highest degree of discipline and accountability. An auditor always wants to see if a system is working the way it's supposed to."
When he first arrived at the city, though, even his own department wasn't working like it was supposed to. Audits in the classical sense were not being conducted. The city's auditors were tracking revenue, but they didn't even have an audit plan, a master list of the projects they were working on ranked by importance. Furthermore previous directors had forested the department with deadwood
Igwe made changes. First he clear-cut the deadwood, transferring highly paid senior personnel elsewhere in the city and replacing them with young auditors he could train to do things his way. All his auditors have CPAs, which heretofore was unheard of in Miami. "They all go to continuing professional classes. I purchased laptops for them. I went out and got an EDP auditor -- electronic data processing -- because 90 percent of financial transactions go through computers, so now we're better equipped to examine computer transactions."
He and his staff of eight churned out seventeen audits in their first fiscal year, a very high production. The reports are uniformly well organized, easy to read, and often damning in their evidence. Findings range from nickel-and-dime scams to massive fiscal oversights. Among them:•The city-funded Overtown Community Optimist Club spent $190,000 without properly accounting for it.
•A city police officer was paid $42,938 for court overtime, in addition to his regular salary of $43,431.
•The Bayfront Park Trust had been spending tens of thousands of dollars on undocumented concert tickets, meals, and cash payouts to its director. Because of personnel and other changes made in response to the audit, the historically indebted trust now operates with a surplus.
City officials generally have been responsive to Igwe's audits. Department heads review his reports, and when they agree with the findings, steps are taken to ensure that problems do not happen again. Igwe regularly follows up his audits with reports analyzing how well the corrections have taken hold.