Warning sign? GSA deputy pleaded guilty to embezzlement months before Vegas bash

The former right-hand man for the official at the heart of the General Services Administration spending scandal pleaded guilty in a long-running embezzlement scheme just months before that fateful Las Vegas convention in 2010 -- a case one lawmaker now sees as a warning sign ignored.

"They were living in some strange bubble," Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said of GSA employees, in an interview on "Fox News Sunday."

The senator, in announcing Sunday that he's urging the GSA inspector general to launch a probe of the entire agency for evidence of similar abuses, invoked the case of Daniel Voll. Looking back at the charges against Voll, the allegations of lavish spending at the Nevada convention and other taxpayer-backed trips have an element of déjà vu.

Voll used to be deputy commissioner in the western region of the GSA's Public Buildings Service -- that's the division Jeffrey Neely led until he was placed on leave for his involvement in the Vegas bash.

In April 2010, Voll pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of roughly $61,000. According to the Justice Department, he used his government-issued credit card for personal expenses ranging from spa trips to luxury hotels to restaurants -- this went on for years, between 2005 and 2009. Voll ultimately agreed to repay the government, after he was caught.

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    Lieberman said Sunday he believes the latest over-the-top spending detailed in the inspector general's report and several hearings this past week is the "exception" at the GSA. Still, he marveled at how the Las Vegas convention went forward despite the federal embezzlement case.

    "(Voll) was embezzling money from the federal government. But that didn't seem to stop Neely and others in the region from the extraordinary waste, fraud and abuse with taxpayer money," Lieberman said Sunday. "I don't have to say it, but its effect, when the economy is down, when people are struggling to pay their bills, when they're struggling to pay their taxes -- it's outrageous that federal employees did this."

    Neely was one of several current and former GSA employees called to testify before Congress this past week on the spending scandal. In his first appearance, Neely invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions, then opted not to appear before the second congressional panel that had called him as a witness.

    Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he plans on holding hearings and calling in GSA leaders to question them on their operations.

    "They have had a tradition of having each of their regions have a lot of autonomy. That autonomy was clearly abused in Region 9. I want to make sure it's not happening in other regions and never happens again in Region 9," Lieberman said.

    The GSA inspector general has called for the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into Neely's behavior.