DOVER — Following publicity surrounding several inappropriate personal charges made to a state-issued credit card, Delaware’s deputy state treasurer submitted a letter of resignation to her boss Monday morning.
Erika Benner requested to be removed from her position, state treasurer Chip Flowers said, in response to media reports that she made more than $2,300 in personal charges on a state card. The charges included purchasing $539.53 for New England Patriots game tickets on Oct. 6, 2011, officials said, plus $595 for a car service to get there.
The News Journal of Wilmington first reported the faulty expenditures on Sunday, and Ms. Benner resigned the next day from a job that pays $97,274. She has been on medical disability since June 2013 and will continue to be paid through treatment, Mr. Flowers said.
“This morning, while still in recovery, Ms. Benner picked up the phone and said ‘This is too much for the treasury to answer for, I did wrong and don’t want to take time away from the department’s mission by the attention this is bringing,'” Mr. Flowers said.
Mr. Flowers said he accepted the resignation and noted that Ms. Benner took full responsibility for what he termed “inappropriate” transactions that also included convenience store, motel, and retail stops charges.
Mr. Flowers said all the wrongful charges have been paid back with interest. That being done, and with Ms. Benner out of the high-ranking state position, he urged his appointed ex-deputy treasurer to focus on her healthy and recovery.
“While we at treasury will never condone those actions, and strongly condemn them, there’s also a personal side to all this,” Mr. Flowers said.
“At approximately the same time she was dealing with the card issues, she was facing an unrelated medical condition that she went away for. That may have impaired her judgment, though she never used that as a reason for making some truly bad decisions.
“My priority now regarding Erika is in her treatment; she’s a mother with children and a family. There’s a human element to this and her health is the most important part of all this.”
Attempts to reach Ms. Benner — deputy treasurer since January 2011 — via cell phone Monday were unsuccessful. She submitted a letter to the treasurer, which included:
“I take full responsibility and apologize for the decisions I made during a very difficult time in my life and am grateful for the support you and your team provided me.
“I do not wish to serve as a distraction to the integral work of the treasury and the accomplishments of your administration in fighting for the principles that inspired me to public service — excellence, honor and ideas that can improve the lives of people.”
Mr. Flowers cited Ms. Benner’s work with the $2 billion treasury portfolio in a period that boosted the fund by over $30 million during her stay.
Despite the good work, Mr. Flowers said, the public reaction to Ms. Benner’s issues had been strong and that “The public has a right to be upset.”
“Though the road will be difficult, I hope that she can one day redeem herself in the hearts of Delawareans,” Mr. Flowers said. “I wish her well.”
A spokesman for Gov. Jack A. Markell declined comment on Monday.
Cutting the cards
Mr. Flowers said his office had scrutinized the state credit cards issued to his staff in July, and found that more than 15 members of his 24-member agency had cards. His determination immediately cut that number to three or four.
“The big issue in my mind is the (credit card) process and we now have to focus on making that a better one,” Mr. Flowers said. “We should have picked it up earlier; this could have been prevented at the very first if the first charge was immediately questioned.
“Instead this went on for 15 months. The state can do better than that, and my office will do what it can to help improve the program …”
As for a replacement for the open deputy state treasurer, Mr. Flowers said the agency has begun an increased vetting process to find the best candidate, and is not in a rush to fill the position.
“Since June we’ve been operating with that position as open, and others have filled in duties and responsibilities,” Mr. Flowers said. “We want to make sure the person who takes the position understands the scrutiny and responsibilities that come with it.”
There are currently 4,484 active cards used by the state, said Delaware Director of Accounting Kristopher E. Knight. The state notified the treasurer’s office of questionable charges on Ms. Benner’s card, he said, and eventually the account was discontinued.
“The recurrence of possibly questionable purchases was the biggest issue,” Mr. Knight said. “We reached out a lot of times (to the treasurer’s office) to get a resolution and got a number of responses.
“Eventually we took a step back, looked at these charges and determined that a number of them were inappropriate.”