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Former Jasper School District Worker Target of Fraud Investigati - KOAM TV 7

Former Jasper School District Worker Target of Fraud Investigation

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JASPER, MISSOURI -

School district officials in Jasper say a former coworker is accused of fraud after being investigated by both local and federal authorities.

Small towns can have their big problems.

"I just know, from my experience, there have been things swept under the rug," says Robin Roughton.

Roughton works at the cafe in Jasper, and also lives in the City.  But despite being in the daily midst of small town talk, she didn't know about thousands of dollars that were missing from the Jasper School District.

"I had no idea," says Roughton.

The school district superintendent says last year, district administrators began investigating a school board secretary and bookkeeper after noticing unauthorized purchases.

"When we say unauthorized, we mean haven't gone through the normal request purchase approval," says Christina Hess, Jasper School District Superintendent.

Hess says the secretary was asked to match checkbook payments to an envelope full of disorganized receipts.

"She started the task, but within a couple of minutes, five minutes I'd say, she asked, 'Do you just want me to resign?'  That was not our intent.  We did not ask for that.  Then she did resign," says Hess.

The Secret Service has been asked to investigate because federal money is involved.  Hess says the school district has been reimbursed by a school insurance company for about $144,700.

"That is the figure that the forensic audit determined could be proved.  Can I say there is more missing?  No, because we cannot prove that," says Hess.

The school district sent a news release to school staff about what happened, but not to parents.  School district officials have promised more checks and balances to prevent fraud.  Roughton still hopes there's big change in this small town.

Hess says the $9,600 cost for a forensic audit has also been covered by the school's insurance company.

The Jasper School District's full statement is below:

"Staff News Release Regarding District Fraud Case

Because district administrators and the Jasper R-V 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 offered to resign immediately and that resignation was accepted.

The district took immediate steps to re-align 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, these 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 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 this 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-V has been reimbursed by our school insurance for approximately $144,700 plus the cost of the forensic audit, another $9600 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 by counsel 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 answer detailed questions regarding this case; it is still an ongoing, legal investigation involving a Federal prosecutor. However, the Jasper R-V 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 ones 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 an end to this?  Yes.

Due to Kathy Fall’s very capable and conservative management of district finances during this period of time and because you all were willing to be as frugal as possible, we are going to be able to slowly add some things back to the budget, 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."

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