State office workers charged for microwave, fridge use

Some state office workers have to use a fee to use the microwave and refrigerator.

Taking your lunch to work is one way to save money, but imagine having to pay to use the company microwave and refrigerator.

It may seem hard to believe, but Eyewitness News has learned of one such place doing exactly that. What's more alarming, someone in state government is making money off the microwave and fridge, pocketing user fees on state property.

13 Investigates follows the money trail to the Medicaid office.

It's a popular hot spot in many office buildings, including at WTHR - the coveted break room. A place where employees stow their mid-day meals and heat them up.

For many, it's an inexpensive way to keep budgets in check.

But 13 Investigates has discovered something amiss cooking up in one state office kitchenette. Insiders say it smells like potential "fraud."

"So the employees have to pay to use the microwave, how much?," asked Ryan Gardner, who initially repeated our question back to us to make sure he was hearing right.

Employees of the Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning have to pay an annual $7 user fee to keep their food cold, or to heat it up.

It's not the amount that has some employees making a stink, but the practice, which is virtually unheard of by other state government employees.

"Do you ever have to pay for the use of microwaves and refrigerators?"

"No. Not that I know of," said Karen Stein before breaking into laughter over the thought of it.

"Do they charge you to use those?" questioned 13 Investigates.

"No, no," responded Katie Cross, speaking of the government office building she was returning to after lunch.

No one at Medicaid or FSSA would talk to Eyewitness News about the $7 fee to use appliances on state property, so 13 Investigates put the idea to lunch crowds on Monument Circle.

"I didn't know if they were trying to get extra money to put somewhere else. That sounds ridiculous to me," Gardner said still shaking his head in disbelief.

An internal log shows an official complaint was made to Indiana Inspector General David Thomas May 29.

But what's inside the complaint is off limits.

"Under Indiana law, we don't comment on cases that may or may not be under investigation until an administrative case is concluded or probable cause has been determined in the Ethics Commission or prosecutor forums," said Thomas.

"Work is hard enough as it is, I feel like just getting your food should make your day easier," said Sarah Milianta-Laffin, a government intern having lunch on the Circle.

Indiana's Facilities Management only provides microwaves and refrigerators for 24-hour agencies where employees work after normal business hours. Other appliances are donated, according to the Department of Administration.

Insiders tell 13 Investigates, the microwave they're paying to use was "donated" to the office.

State employees are not allowed to run a business on state property or state time, prompting one big question: "Where does the money go?"

13 Investigates told as many as 100 employees work in the Office of Medicaid Policy and Planning. That means upwards of $700 could be collected. Insiders say checks are not accepted and no receipts are given.

The Inspector General must now figure out if charging user fees for donated appliances is a violation of the state's ethics code.