SUIT CLAIMS CTA CRUNCHED NUMBERS MAN
Employee’s warning over ‘financial crisis’ with 2013 budget cost him his job, lawsuit alleges
Casey Loop was an Iraq war veteran intent on public-sector work when he landed his first full-time job out of graduate business school crunching budget figures at the Chicago Transit Authority.
But in less than 1½ years, after a raise and then a promotion, Loop says he was warning CTA officials about huge red flags in the numbers he was analyzing.
In a whistleblower lawsuit filed this week, Loop alleged that his job was axed after he finally urged the CTA’s financial overseer — the Regional Transit Authority — to investigate a “financial crisis” involving a $56 million labor “understatement” and other “astonishing” assumptions packed into the CTA’s 2013 budget.
Within 15 minutes of “confidentially” telling the CTA’s auditor that he had contacted the RTA, the CTA’s chief financial officer called and accused him of being “disingenuous,” the suit contends. Two days later, critical computer access was yanked, it charges. Within 1½ months, he was told he was being laid off.
“As soon as I sent that report [to the RTA], I was an outcast, and they looked for the first opportunity to get rid of me . . . Loop, 33, told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“The philosophy was to sweep problems under the rug. The verbiage they liked to use at the CTA was ‘kick the can down the road,’ ” he said.
CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said she could not comment on specifics of the suit, but said, “We believe the suit is completely without merit and the accusations are baseless. The CTA proposed a balanced budget for 2013 and finished the year with a balanced budget. Both the RTA Board and CTA Board approved the 2013 budget.’’
“Most of what was said — practically all of what was said — was not true,” said Ron DeNard, CTA chief financial officer. CTA auditor Andrell Holloway’s assistant referred calls to CTA media relations, and an RTA spokeswoman declined comment because of “pending litigation.’’
Loop’s suit contends the CTA “ignored his report of irregularities,” so Loop believed he had a duty to alert the RTA. He later also notified the state inspector general.
“He’s a guy who just really is looking to do the right thing,” said Loop’s attorney, Betty Tsamis. “He is reemployed. He’s not hanging out, trying to make money off this case.’’
The suit seeks reinstatement with back pay and unspecified damages.
A native of San Diego, Loop said he came to Chicago after four years in the Army, including 15 months in Iraq, to get an MBA in finance and a master of finance in risk management from Loyola University, known for its business ethics training.
Eager to put his finance skills to work in the public sector, Loop landed his first full-time job out of grad school in February 2013 as a CTA budget project consultant. By June 2013 he was promoted to manager of performance analysis, according to his suit.
Months into the 2013 budget year, Loop said, he discovered the CTA had plugged a 2013 budget hole by assuming that 347 budgeted vacancies would not be filled that year. On paper, this was buried as a $56 million labor credit in “Department 9000,” he said. Normally, Loop said, only 25 percent of vacancies would be projected as not filled.
“To say we are not going to fill a single position in 2013 is unrealistic,” Loop said.
In a letter to the RTA, Loop also called the budget’s revenue and ridership assumptions so “astonishing” that by July, they were $32 million off.
By then, the CTA’s finance team was creating a budget “reforecast” that Loop told the RTA was “favorably overstated and not implementable.”
Among the ideas discussed was to recount inventory, Loop said. “They did a recount and found over $9 million in parts just lying around.”
By August, the CTA was publicly conceding a $10 million deficit and blaming it mainly on overly optimistic fare and pass collection projections.
Loop said he was promoted to find efficiencies and job cuts for the 2014 budget. Ironically, on Sept. 11, 2013, he was told his job was among 149 being cut.
Casey Loop filed a whistleblower lawsuit this week against the Chicago Transit Authority, alleging that he lost his job after urging the Regional Transit Authority to investigate a “financial crisis” with the CTA’s 2013 budget.