Alexandria Police are investigating the theft of nearly $184,000 from the city’s finance department in a suspected phishing scheme.
On Jan. 28, the department made a payment of $183,956.10 to what it believed was Integrity Construction
Police were notified of the theft on Feb. 5.
“The suspect sent and received multiple emails from Mr. Lucas’ account until he was able to get in contact with someone from City of Alexandria Finance,” police reported in a search warrant affidavit. “From there, the suspect successfully changed the method and destination of payment for Mr. Lucas’ contract with the City of Alexandria.”
The finance office, which is located at City Hall (301 King Street), started receiving fraudulent emails last October requesting a change from a paper check payment to electronic funds transfer. An accounting manager with the city took multiple steps to verify the account information. The first email to the finance office was sent on Oct. 18, 2019, and the office continued to receive emails until Feb. 5, 2020, documents show.
The individual portraying themselves as a representative from Integrity Construction Services communicated via email and sent a voided check at the request of the account manager, according to police. The voided check showed the name of the vendor, but the account belongs to a woman in South Carolina.
Police spoke with Lucas, who told them he had no knowledge of what transpired, and subsequently hired an IT consultant who determined he was the victim of a phishing scam.
“The suspect who successfully phished Mr. Lucas’ email address gained access and established rules with the Outlook 365 program Mr. Lucas used,” police reported in the affidavit.
Alexandria spokesman Craig Fifer said that the city was not the victim of a phishing attack.
“The city provides training to all employees on how to avoid phishing attacks, and this was not a case in which the city was the victim of a phishing attack. This was a breach on the vendor’s side,” he said. “The city and ACPS are reviewing our vetting practices to improve those controls and keep this situation from happening in the future.”
Fifer added that the city is still in the process of paying the vendor.
“It’s slightly delayed by the investigation, but we’re in the process of making that payment,” he said.
If the thief is caught, he or she could face felony charges punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The concept renderings from artist Olalekan Jeyifous feature four three-dimensional silhouettes, each roughly 11 feet tall, with industrial imagery carved into the bodies. The figures will face out towards the river. The ground of the plaza will be covered with a pattern referencing African-American quilting — mixing traditional symbols with ones that represent industries from the city’s past — like an armory and rail tracks.
The art would replace the Mirror Mirror installation — which also reflected a piece of the city’s history. The displays are part of a series by different artists called Site See: New Views in Old Town.
Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, unveiled the designs to the Waterfront Commission yesterday (Tuesday) morning. The designs were approved at the Arts Commission meeting that evening.
Ruggiero said Jeyifous visited Alexandria in the spring and went on a tour around town. Jeyifous’ visit to the Freedom House (1315 Duke Street) — once the headquarters of the largest domestic slave trading firm in the United States — was one of the visits that ultimately helped shape the project, Ruggiero said.
The artwork is expected to be installed in March, according to Ruggiero.