Monday, December 04, 2017
Embezzled funds cause of drastic cuts for Jasper R-5 School District, federal charges expected against former board secretary
The board secretary resigned after district officials began to notice discrepancies in the books.
District officials confirmed the investigation and the theft, which has forced Jasper to make severe cuts to its programs and services, in a "staff news release," which the Turner Report has obtained.
The amount of money that the former board secretary/bookkeeper is alleged to have taken was not specified in the news release, only that the district had insurance that covered $144,700 and also paid for $9,600 for the forensic audit that determined the thefts had taken place. District sources indicated to the Turner Report that a conservative estimate of the amount stolen from the district is "hundreds of thousands."
The "staff news release" was the first confirmation district employees had received, though the theft has been a subject of much discussion in the Jasper community for the past several months.
The name of the board secretary was not mentioned in the "staff news release," and will not be mentioned in the Turner Report until charges are filed.
At this point, no news release has been issued to district patrons or to the media.
The "staff news release" is printed below:
Because district administrators and the Jasper R-5 Board of Education take their job of being financial overseers very seriously, in the late spring and summer of 2016, district administrators began investigating a former board secretary/district bookkeeper for instances of financial and procedural improprieties. This investigation began while the former bookkeeper was still employed and involved unauthorized purchases and failure to follow district financial protocol and procedures.
As a result of this investigation, the former bookkeeper was questioned regarding unauthorized purchases and then asked to perform the task of aligning checkbook payments to a widely disorganized envelope full of receipts. The intent of this task was to make sure that district funds were being spent on district purchases with the proper documentation. When pressed to do this task, the former bookkeeper resigned immediately and that resignation was accepted.
The district took immediate steps to realign existing personnel to cover the central office jobs that needed to be done. Faith Jeffries was moved into the position of board secretary/superintendent secretary, Chad Harris was employed as the payroll clerk for the district and Sandra Earl continued in her role as accounts payable clerk. By doing this, the district added another set of eyes to district finances.
Over the next few weeks, district administrators and staff discovered and continued to investigate further instances of procedural and financial improprieties. In November of 2016, those findings were turned over to a Jasper County detective who had experience in financial fraud. His findings supported a case of fraud, but he believed that if we were to truly build a solid case we needed a forensic financial audit. He also believed that if we could get a federal prosecutor interested in our case, the odds of a successful prosecution would be greater.
The Jasper County investigator then partnered with a federal Secret Service agent out of Springfield. Our school insurance group, MUSIC, agreed to fund that forensic audit and it happened last spring. Once those findings were made official this summer, the Secret Service agent agreed to present the case to a federal prosecutor.
Since then, the Secret Service agent has met with the former bookkeeper and the case, any impending charges and any potential plea bargains have been turned over to the federal prosecutor. This happened last month.
Our understanding is this process of negotiation can take up to several weeks. The district is not actively involved in his part of the legal process, but we will be notified when formal charges are brought and what they are.
If a plea deal is reached, we will receive notification of that as well. If there is not a plea deal, then we will be notified of court dates.
Because school districts are insured, up to a certain threshold, against financial fraud, Jasper R-5 has been reimbursed by our school insurance for approximately $144,700, plus the cost of the forensic audit, another $9,600 more/less.
It has not been the intent of the Board of Education and district administrators to be secretive, but due to the nature of the case, we have been advised to maintain confidentiality in all phases of the investigation. Therefore, no official statement has been released prior to this time.
We well understand that rumors have been rampant and that misinformation has been circulated widely. We also well understand that one of the tenants of a democratic judicial system is the idea that all accused are innocent until proven guilty. That is true in this case, as well.
We still cannot answered detailed questions regarding this case. It is still an ongoing legal investigation involving a federal prosecutor. However, the Jasper R-5 Board of Education and district administrators believe we are within our rights to present these facts to you at this time. As staff members, you have had to bear the brunt of these brutally tight budget times. You are the one doing more for less.
To help insure that the events of the past don't repeat in the future:
1. The district has employed a different auditing firm to conduct the required annual school audit. They completed their first regular school audit in late September and will have a representative at the December school board to present their findings.
2. We will also continue to separate central office financial and procedural duties to the greatest degree possible so that no one person has too great of access.
3. We will always insist on personnel following all financial procedures, whether it's requesting supplies via a purchase order, turning in time sheets or reimbursement forms, or depositing money into activity accounts.
Will there be and end to this? Yes.
Some things will be added back to the budget slowly, especially in areas of critical classroom need. We hope to regain the ability to have a more traditional administrative structure and return items to the budget that have been eliminated like the purchase of school buses on a regular schedule as well as intentional maintenance and repair of buildings.
Our goal as Board of Education members and administrators is to make well researched decisions on where funds need to be spent in the upcoming years.
No names were included on the "staff news release" indicating that it was a joint release, as noted in the release, from the Board of Education and district administrators.