Fired MnDOT official fired again

Sonia Morphew Pitt
Sonia Morphew Pitt, who was fired from her position as director of homeland security planning at MnDOT, was fired again Thursday from a federal position.
Photo courtesy of MnDOT

Former Minnesota Department of Transportation emergency response director Sonia Pitt lost her second job in less than a year on Thursday.

She was fired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after just two months as a transportation security specialist.

The Star Tribune reported earlier Thursday that Pitt had been hired for the department's Transportation Safety Administration at its headquarters in Arlington, Va. Pitt got the new job in May, about six months after MnDOT fired her for work schedule improprieties that included continuing an East Coast trip after the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed.

Ellen Howe, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Safety Administration, said Pitt was fired after information from MnDOT backed up information from an internal investigation. She wouldn't specify the nature of the MnDOT information.

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Earlier, Pitt, 44, confirmed her new job to the newspaper but declined further comment. She was making $89,920 a year, Howe said.

Howe announced the firing hours after the newspaper report, noting that Pitt's references had checked out when she was hired and that she had security clearance from her previous job.

Howe said the TSA Office of Inspections had been looking into Pitt's hiring since before the newspaper report but wouldn't provide more details. She said the Inspector General's office at Homeland Security was notified and referred the matter to the TSA Office of Inspections.

Pitt's Minneapolis-based attorney, John Fabian, didn't respond to requests for comment Thursday from The Associated Press.

Pitt was hired for the federal job six months after being fired by MnDOT as its director of homeland security for work-schedule improprieties. She had taken an unauthorized, state-paid trip to Washington, D.C., during the Interstate 35W bridge collapse on Aug. 1 and didn't return to the state for nearly two weeks.

Democratic state Rep. Jeremy Kalin expressed amazement that Pitt landed in another security-sensitive public position.

"She certainly didn't show she could be counted on to take care of her job here at home," Kalin said Thursday before Pitt's firing was announced. "So I'm quite surprised and actually upset that she'd find another home in the public sector, especially in homeland security."

An investigation by the Minnesota Legislative Auditor concluded she was a "belligerent, aggressive" employee who abused her position and billed the state for thousands of dollars in excessive compensation for airfare, hotels, mileage and personal cell phone calls.

Her case was referred to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office for possible charges. Office spokesman Jack Rhodes said Thursday that the case remains under review but she has not been charged with any crime.

Pitt challenged her firing in Minnesota, but an arbitrator upheld it. Three MnDOT managers were reprimanded and one was suspended for lax oversight of Pitt.

Her publicly paid travel came under scrutiny after the collapse. At the time, she was at an authorized leadership conference in Cambridge, Mass. One of her Minnesota colleagues who was also at the conference quickly returned to the Twin Cities but Pitt finished the conference and then flew Aug. 4 to Washington, where she stayed until Aug. 11.

She was accused of misusing her state-issued cell phone by making hours of personal calls. The probe showed that in the days following the collapse Pitt spent more time on her cell phone with a federal employee identified as Daniel Ferezan than people within her agency dealing with the tragedy. Between February and June, the two exchanged at least 275 calls totaling 2,000 minutes.

Pitt argued before the arbitrator that the calls to Ferezan were business related, but the arbitrator ruled against her.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)