“In my opinion, the whole clerk’s office is under investigation because everyone in the office handles money,”
Municipal Court Judge John Thatcher
MOUNT VERNON — State auditors are investigating Mount Vernon Municipal Court after more than $7,000 went unaccounted for in 2018 from the clerk’s office.
In a letter dated Aug. 2 to the City of Mount Vernon, Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber states that an investigation is ongoing, and mentions findings from the city audit for 2018. The city audit was conducted by an independent firm, Wilson, Shannon & Snow, which found that $7,749.05 was “unreconciled” in the municipal court criminal and bond bank accounts. The funds were related to money which had been taken in by the court and recorded in the court’s accounting system, but were not deposited with a local bank used by the court, according to the audit.
The News received a copy of the state’s letter in October and obtained the audit through a public records request.
Municipal Court Judge John Thatcher confirmed Monday that the clerk’s office is under investigation, but said that the investigation begun even before the audit was completed after allegations of theft were made against a member of the clerk’s office.
Thatcher said he was informed of the allegations Dec. 17, 2018 by Mount Vernon City Law Director Rob Broeren and Police Chief Roger Monroe. Broeren and Monroe reported that a court employee had made allegations that another employee was stealing from the clerk’s office.
Thatcher said he called the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to report the allegations the same day.
The state auditor’s office had become involved in the investigation by late February, when its agents seized records from the clerk’s office. Their investigation is ongoing.
In light of its findings in the audit, Wilson, Shannon & Snow recommended a corrective action plan to be followed by the court. However, by the time that Wilson, Shannon & Snow provided its management letter for the city audit June 26, municipal court had already adopted a new policy regarding cash deposits with an effective date of June 1. Thatcher said the policy was designed with help from Mount Vernon Auditor Terry Scott and was not drawn up due to input from Wilson, Shannon & Snow.
The court accepts cash payments for fines, bonds, and fees. The court also collects bond money posted overnight at the 911 dispatch center, according to the policy. All employees with the clerk’s office handle cash, Thatcher said.
The new policy requires deposits to be made twice daily, and multiple clerks are required to reconcile the deposit amount. According to the policy, one clerk will issue a receipt for the amount in the bank deposit before it leaves the clerk’s office; another clerk takes the deposit to the bank and, upon returning, reconciles the amounts with a receipt of deposit from the bank.
Thatcher said cameras have been installed at the clerk’s office focusing on where money is accepted and where it is held. The cash drawer is kept locked, Thatcher said.
Since the new policy was adopted, Thatcher said the deposits have been reconciled daily and have all been correct.
After the state auditor’s office confiscated the clerk’s office records, Thatcher said he contacted the state and asked for an update within 30 days. He got no response after a month, tried again, and still received no response, he said.
The News has submitted a public records request for the court’s criminal, civil and bond deposit records, as well as bank deposit reports, from December 2018. When contacted by the News for a report regarding the allegations of theft, Mount Vernon Police Records Clerk Wade Grogg said no report was taken.
Thatcher said the same employees who were with the court’s clerks office in December are still employed today. He said he has not taken any disciplinary actions because he does not know what the nature of the conduct may have resulted in the lost money, whether it is criminal or negligent.
Thatcher said he has not personally identified any single employee who may be the behind the missing money.
“In my opinion, the whole clerk’s office is under investigation because everyone in the office handles money,” Thatcher said.
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