A 31-year-old Whitehall-area man was arrested Aug. 25 in connection with the online sale of COTA bus passes.

Jason S. Morris, 31, of Baywood Street in Columbus is charged with telecommunications fraud.

Further evidence will be presented to the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office with a request for additional charges, said Ben Marrison, director of communications for the office of Ohio Auditor Ned Yost.

The Ohio Auditor’s Office, Columbus City Schools’ internal auditors and COTA collaborated in the four-month investigation, Marrison said.

Columbus and Whitehall police assisted in the arrest of Morris at his residence in Columbus, immediately adjacent to the Whitehall city limits south of East Main Street.

“After COTA discovered the bus passes were being sold online, a sting operation was set up and the serial numbers (on the bus passes) indicated they were from (Columbus City Schools),” Marrison said.

The investigation determined the bus passes were stolen from the Columbus City Schools’ transportation department and were destined for low-income households, homeless individuals or those involved in the district’s intern program.

According to investigators, Morris allegedly sold four COTA bus passes for $100 in a sting operation after advertising them for sale on a website.

The passes, which were individually valued at $62, earlier had been sold to Columbus City Schools as part of a $60,000 purchase of monthly bus passes.

Investigators said Morris received at least 100 stolen passes valued at more than $6,000 from a Columbus schools employee assigned to the transportation department.

That individual was removed from her position the same day Morris was arrested, investigators said.

Carolyn Smith, internal auditor for Columbus City Schools, said in a press release announcing the arrest that her staff will examine the controls on the COTA pass program, estimated to cost the district about $500,000 this year.

“COTA was first aware that the stolen passes were being sold online and contacted (CCS),” Marrison said, which in turn contacted the auditor’s office to begin the investigation.

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