Tag Archives for " Government "

Segregation of Duties
Mar 21

Segregation of Duties: How to Overcome

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Fraud

Segregation of duties is key to reducing fraud. But smaller entities may not be able to do so. Today, I tell you how overcome this problem, regardless of the entity’s size. 

Segregation of Duties

The Environment of Fraud

Darkness is the environment of wrongdoing.

Why?

No one will see us. Or so we think.

Fraud occurs in darkness.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit stories, Sméagol, a young man murders another to possess a golden ring, beautiful in appearance but destructive in nature. The possession of the ring and Sméagol’s hiding of self and his precious (the ring) transforms him into a hideous creature–Gollum. I know of no better or graphic portrayal of how that which is alluring in the beginning, is destructive in the end.

Fraud opportunities have those same properties: they are alluring and harmful. And, yes, darkness is the environment where fraud happens.

What’s the solution? Transparency. It protects businesses, governments, and nonprofits.

But while we desire open and understandable processes, our businesses often have just a few employees that perform the accounting duties. And, many times, no one else understands how the system works.

It is desirable to divide accounting duties among various employees, so no one person controls the whole process. This division of responsibility creates transparency. How? By providing multiple eyes to see what’s going on.

But this segregation of duties is not always possible.

Lacking Segregation of Duties

Many small organizations lack appropriate segregation of duties and believe that solutions do not exist or that they are too costly. But is this true? I don’t think so.

Here’s two easy steps to create greater transparency and safety.

1. Bank Account Transparency

First, consider this simple control: Provide all bank statements to someone other than the bookkeeper. Allow this second person to receive the bank statements before the bookkeeper. While no silver bullet, it has power.

Persons who might receive the bank statements first (before the bookkeeper) include the following:

  • A nonprofit board member
  • The mayor of a small city
  • The owner of a small business
  • The library director
  • A church leader

What is the receiver of the bank statements to do? Merely open the bank statements and review the contents for appropriateness (mainly cleared checks).

In many small entities, accounting processes are a mystery to board members or owners. Why? Only one person (the bookkeeper) understands the disbursement process, the recording of journal entries, billing and collections, and payroll.

Relying on a trusted bookkeeper is not a good thing. So how can you shine the light?

Fraud Prevention

Picture courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Allow a second person to see the bank statements.

Fraud decreases when the bookkeeper knows someone is watching. Suppose the bookkeeper desires to write a check to himself but realizes that a board member will see the cleared check. Is this a deterrent? You bet.

Don’t want to send the bank statements to a second person? Request that the bank provide read-only online access to the second person. And let the bookkeeper know.

Even the appearance of transparency creates (at least some) safety. Suppose the second person reviewer opens the bank statements (before providing them to the bookkeeper) and does nothing else. The perception of a review enhances safety. I am not recommending that the review not be performed. But if the bookkeeper even thinks someone is watching, fraud will lessen.

When you audit cash, see if these types of controls are in place.

Now, let’s look at the second step to overcome a lack of segregation of duties. Surprise audits.

2. Surprise Audits

Another way to create small-entity transparency is to perform surprise audits. These reviews are not opinion audits (such as those issued by CPAs). They involve random inspections of various areas such as viewing all checks clearing the May bank statement. Such a review can be contracted out to a CPA. Or they can be performed by someone in the company. For example, a board member.

Segregation of Duties

Picture courtesy of DollarPhoto.com

Additionally, adopt a written policy stating that the surprise inspections will occur once or twice a year.

The policy could be as simple as:

Twice a year a board member (or designee other than the bookkeeper) will inspect the accounting system and related documents. The scope and details of the inspection will be at the judgment of the board member (or designee). An inspection report will be provided to the board.

Why word the policy this way? You want to make the system general enough that the bookkeeper has no idea what will be examined but distinct enough that a regular review occurs. 

Surprise Audit Ideas

Here are some surprise audit ideas:

  • Inspect all cleared checks that clear a particular month for appropriate payees and signatures and endorsements
  • Agree all receipts to the deposit slip for three different time periods
  • Review all journal entries made in a two week period and request an explanation for each
  • Inspect two bank reconciliations for appropriateness
  • Review one monthly budget to actual report (look for unusual variances)
  • Request a report of all new vendors added in the last six months and review for appropriateness

The reviewer may not perform all of the procedures and can perform just one. What is done is not as important as the fact that something is done. In other words, the primary purpose of the surprise audit is to make the bookkeeper think twice about whether he or she can steal and not get caught.

I will say it again. Having multiple people involved reduces the threat of fraud.

Segregation of Duties Summary

In summary, the beauty of these two procedures (bank account transparency and surprise audits) is they are straightforward and cheap to implement. Even so, they are powerful. So shine the light.

What other procedures do you recommend?

For more information about preventing fraud, check out my book: The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention.

GASB 87 Lease Accounting
Jan 27

GASB 87 Lease Accounting

By Charles Hall | Accounting , Local Governments

Are you looking for GASB 87 lease accounting information? Are you a government that leases assets? Then you're in the right place. Below I provide information about lease terms, discount rates, accounting entries, and disclosure requirements.

GASB 87 Lease Accounting

Removal of Bright-Line Criteria

Historically governments have followed the guidance in FASB 13, Accounting for Leases. Lease classifications (i.e., operating or capital) were based on bright-line criteria such as whether the government leased an asset for more than 75% of its economic life. 

GASB 87, Leases, removes the bright-line criteria and calls for more judgment. (The words reasonably certain appears thirty-nine times in GASB 87.)

The new lease standard provides for various accounting alternatives. Let's see what they are.

Three Potential Accounting Alternatives

Regarding leases, there are now three accounting alternatives:

  1. Short-term leases
  2. Contracts that transfer ownership
  3. Contracts that do not transfer ownership

Before we dive deeper, here are three quick points about these alternatives:

First, know that short-term leases do not create a lease liability.

Second, understand that contracts that transfer ownership are a financed sale.

Third, know that contracts that do not transfer ownership create a lease liability. This third category is a catchall for arrangements that don't qualify for short-term lease treatment and don't transfer ownership.

Now, let's see how GASB defines a lease.

Definition of a Lease

GASB defines a lease this way:

A lease is defined as a contract that conveys control of the right to use another entity’s nonfinancial asset (the underlying asset) as specified in the contract for a period of time in an exchange or exchange-like transaction.

There are five points to this definition:

First, the lease must be a contract. 

Second, the contract must provide control of the right to use.

Third, this control is in relation to a nonfinancial asset.

Fourth, the control of the nonfinancial asset must be for a period of time.

And finally, the lease is an exchange or exchange-like transaction.

I think the terms contract, period of time, and exchange are easily understood. But the terms control and nonfinancial assets might cause some confusion. So let's clarify those.

Control

​A government controls an asset if it has the right to the present service capacity and the right to determine the nature and manner of use of the asset.

In other words, the government must have the right to the benefits generated from the asset. A city can drive a leased police car. That is the benefit, the present service capacity.

Additionally, Nature and manner address whether the government controls the use of the asset. A city police officer can, for example, drive a leased police car at 3:00 a.m. And she can drive it as far as she likes. The police department determines the nature and manner of use.

Nonfinancial Asset

And what is a nonfinancial asset? It's generally anything that is not a financial asset (e.g., cash, receivable). Examples of nonfinancial assets include buildings, land, vehicles, and equipment. There are exceptions, however. 

GASB 87 Scope Exclusions

GASB 87 does not apply to:

  • Leases of intangible assets (e.g., rights to explore for oil and gas)
  • Leased biological assets (e.g., timber)
  • Inventory that is leased
  • Service concession arrangements
  • Leases in which the underlying asset is financed with outstanding conduit debt (unless the underlying asset and the conduit debt are reported by the lessor)
  • Supply contracts (e.g., power purchase agreements)

Now let's see how to determine the lease term.

Lease Term

Prior to GASB 87, the minimum lease payments determined the lease term. Not so any more. In some cases, GASB 87 provides for a more subjective determination of a lease's term, one based on what is reasonably certain.

Lease Options

Under GASB 87, lease terms are not just the noncancelable portion of the agreement. Governments add the following to the noncancelable period:

  • Periods covered by a lessee’s option to extend the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessee will exercise that option 
  • Periods covered by a lessee’s option to terminate the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessee will not exercise that option 
  • Periods covered by a lessor’s option to extend the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessor will exercise that option  
  • Periods covered by a lessor’s option to terminate the lease if it is reasonably certain, based on all relevant factors, that the lessor will not exercise that option.
Reasonably Certain Factors

In determining what reasonably certain is, the government considers factors such as the economic impact of not exercising an option or how the government has acted in the past.

Once the lease term decision is made, document your basis for doing so. Why? So there is a record of the decision. (Your auditors may want to see this. Additionally, the record provides valuable information regarding future lease term decisions.)

Fiscal Funding Clauses Affect on Term

Additionally, you may be wondering if fiscal funding clauses affect leases. (Fiscal funding clauses allow a government to cancel a lease if the government does not appropriate funds for the payments.) If a government is reasonably expected to exercise such a provision, then this factor can impact the lease term. Personally, however, I've never seen a government terminate a lease through such a provision. Fiscal funding clauses will usually not affect lease terms.

So, should governments ever reassess the term period?

Reassessment of Term

Government will generally not reassess the lease term decision. 

Nevertheless, reassessment will occur in some cases. Consider this example. The government enters into a fifteen-year lease with a five-year lease extension. The government believes that it will not exercise the five-year extension. But then in year fifteen, it does so. Now the government binds itself for another five years. Therefore, the lease is extended. And the additional five years is added to the lease term. 

Now that you know about lease terms, you may be wondering about short-term leases. How does a government account for those?

Short-Term Leases

Treat leases with a maximum possible term of twelve months or less as short-term leases. And do not capitalize such leases. 

One word of caution: if there are renewal options, include those in making the short-term lease classification decision, regardless of probability. If, for example, the lease is for twelve months with an option to renew for another six months, then the lease is not short-term. Even if the government believes it will not exercise the option.

So, how do you record short-term lease payments? As expenses.

Contract that Transfers Ownership

If an agreement transfers ownership of the asset to the lessee by the end of the contract, then the contract is a financed purchase. For the lessee, the government records the purchased asset (not an intangible) and the related debt (not a lease liability).

So, what about a lease agreement with a bargain purchase option? Should it be treated as financed purchase? The answer is no. The presence of a bargain purchase option in a lease contract is not the same as a provision that transfers ownership of the underlying asset.

Multiple Components of a Lease Contract

If an agreement has lease and non-lease components, split the transaction. 

A government might, for example, lease floors four and five of a ten-story building. In doing so, it is required to pay for common area maintenance. Split this transaction into a lease and a maintenance contract. Record the lease exclusive of the maintenance payments. If, however, it is not practicable to determine the separate price allocation, the government should account for the transaction as a single lease.

If a lease involves multiple underlying assets (say a police car and a water tank), the government should account for each as a separate lease component. 

Lessee Accounting

If the government is leasing an asset, then it will use the following guidance. (An exception exists if the lease is short-term as explained above.)

GASB 87 Lessee accounting

Initial Recognition

At commencement, the government recognizes an (1) intangible right-to-use asset and (2) a lease liability. 

So the government does not recognize the asset itself (e.g., tractor), but the right to use the asset. This is an intangible asset.

Now let's see how to compute the lease asset.

1. Lease Asset 

So. what goes in the lease asset calculation?

The government should include:

  • Initial lease liability (see below)
  • Payments made to lessor at or before commencement less any lease incentives received from the lessor at or before the commencement of the lease term
  • Initial direct costs that are ancillary charges necessary to place the lease asset into service

So what costs are not included in the intangible asset? Governments should exclude any debt issuance costs.

Notice that the lease asset can be greater than the lease liability. The lease asset starts with the lease liability and increases if, for example, the government makes a payment to the lessor prior to commencement of the lease term.

In governmental funds (e.g., general fund), the initial accounting entry is a debit to capital outlay and a credit to other financing sources. In full accrual funds (e.g., enterprise fund), the initial entry is a debit to the intangible lease asset and a credit to the lease liability.

So, how should the lease asset be amortized?

Lease Asset Amortization

Amortize the lease asset in a systematic and rational manner over the shorter of the lease term or the asset's useful life. Usually this will be straight-line amortization.

And what are the journal entries for recording the lease asset?

Lease Asset Accounting

The government records the lease asset and then amortizes it using an entry such as the following (for full-accrual funds; e.g., water and sewer fund):

Account
Amortization Expense
Accumulated Amortization - Right-of-Use Asset
Debit
XX


Credit


XX

GASB 87 says to report the amortization as an outflow of resources (e.g., amortization expense). The amortization expense can, for financial reporting purposes, be combined with the depreciation expense of other capital assets. 

Modified accrual funds (e.g., general fund) will not record an amortization entry. Why? The asset does not appear on the balance sheet.

2. Lease Liability 

How does a government compute the lease liability?

Simply put, the lease liability is the present value of everything you think you're going to pay. Prior to GASB 87, governments used the present value of minimum lease payments. Now governments include payments that are reasonably certain. (See information above regarding what is reasonably certain.)

The computation is made up of the present value of:

  • Fixed payments
  • Variable payments that depend on an index or a rate (e.g., consumer price index) measured using the index or rate as of the commencement of the lease
  • Variable payments that are fixed in substance
  • Amounts that are reasonably certain of being required to be paid by the lessee under residual value guarantees
  • The exercise price of a purchase option if it is reasonably certain that the lessee will exercise that option
  • Payments for penalties for terminating the lease
  • Any lease incentives receivable from the lessor
  • Any other payments that are reasonably certain of being required based on an assessment of all relevant factors
Variable Payments Based on Future Performance

Governments will not include payments based on future performance or usage in the lease liability. Expense such payments in the period incurred. 

For example, if a government leases a vehicle with a provision for 12,000 miles annually but the car is driven 15,000 miles, expense the payment for the additional mileage as incurred.

So, where does the discount rate come from?

Discount Rate

Use the rate charged by the lessor if specified in the agreement. If not specified, use the incremental borrowing rate for the government. This is the estimated rate the government would pay if, during the life of the lease, it borrowed the funds for those lease payments.

Lease Liability Accounting

Once the initial lease is recorded as a liability, the government will begin making periodic payments to the lessor. The effective interest rate method will be used. Record the payments as follows (for full-accrual funds; e.g., water and sewer fund):

Account
Lease liability
Interest Expense

Cash

Debit
XX

XX

Credit


XX

Post the payments to principal and interest expenditures in modified accrual accounting funds (e.g., general fund).

GASB 87 Disclosures

The following disclosures are required for lessees:

  • A general description of its leasing arrangements 
  • The total amount of lease assets, and the related accumulated amortization, disclosed separately from other capital assets
  • The amount of lease assets by major classes of underlying assets, disclosed separately from other capital assets
  • The amount of outflows of resources recognized in the reporting period for variable payments not previously included in the measurement of the lease liability
  • The amount of outflows of resources recognized in the reporting period for other payments (e.g., termination penalties) not previously included in the measurement of the lease liability
  • Principal and interest requirements to maturity, presented separately, for the lease liability for each of the five subsequent fiscal years and in five-year increments thereafter
  • Commitments under leases before the commencement of the lease term
  • The components of any loss associated with an impairment 

Transition

Apply GASB 87 retroactively, if practicable, for all periods presented. Use the facts and circumstances existing at the beginning of the implementation period to record the leases.

The notes to the financial statements should disclose the nature of the restatement and its effect. 

GASB 87 says that the provisions of this statement need not be applied to immaterial items.

GASB 87 Effective Date

The effective date of GASB 87 is for reporting periods beginning after December 15, 2019. 

Early application is encouraged. 

Jul 17

Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision (Hot Off the Press)

By Charles Hall | Auditing , Local Governments

Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision

The Government Accountability Office just issued the new Yellow Book titled Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision.

Government Auditing Standards 2018 Revision

Get Your Free Copy

An electronic version of the 2018 Yellow Book can be accessed on GAO’s Yellow Book web page at http://www.gao.gov/yellowbook.

Major Changes

The introduction to the new Yellow Book summarizes the significant changes as follows:

This revision contains major changes from, and supersedes, the 2011 revision. These changes, summarized below, reinforce the principles of transparency and accountability and strengthen the framework for high quality government audits.

  • All chapters are presented in a revised format that differentiates requirements and application guidance related to those requirements.
  • Supplemental guidance from the appendix of the 2011 revision is either removed or incorporated into the individual chapters.
  • The independence standard is expanded to state that preparing financial statements from a client-provided trial balance or underlying accounting records generally creates significant threats to auditors’ independence, and auditors should document the threats and safeguards applied to eliminate and reduce threats to an acceptable level or decline to perform the service.
  • The peer review standard is modified to require that audit organizations comply with their respective affiliated organization’s peer review requirements and GAGAS peer review requirements. Additional requirements are provided for audit organizations not affiliated with recognized organizations.
  • The standards include a definition for waste.
  • The performance audit standards are updated with specific considerations for when internal control is significant to the audit objectives.

Effective with the implementation dates for the 2018 revision of Government Auditing Standards, GAO is also retiring Government Auditing Standards: Guidance on GAGAS Requirements for Continuing Professional Education (GAO-05-568G, April 2005) and Government Auditing Standards: Guidance for Understanding the New Peer Review Ratings (D06602, January 2014).

Effective Dates

The 2018 revision of Government Auditing Standards is effective for financial audits, attestation engagements, and reviews of financial statements for periods ending on or after June 30, 2020, and for performance audits beginning on or after July 1, 2019.

Early implementation is not permitted.

The 2018 revision of Government Auditing Standards supersedes the 2011 revision (GAO-12-331G, December 2011), the 2005 Government Auditing Standards: Guidance on GAGAS Requirements for Continuing Professional Education (GAO-05-568G, April 2005), and the 2014 Government Auditing Standards: Guidance for Understanding the New Peer Review Ratings (D06602, January 2014). 

governmental internal controls
Apr 02

Useful Governmental Internal Controls that You Need Know

By Charles Hall | Fraud , Local Governments

Below I provide useful governmental internal controls that you need to know.

Why am I providing this list of useful controls? Most small governments struggle with establishing sound internal controls. So, the list provides a foundation for preventing theft in your government. While not a comprehensive list, I thought I would share it.

Many of the internal controls listed below are also pertinent to nonprofits and small businesses as well. You will find this same checklist in The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention (available on Amazon) which provides many more fraud prevention ideas.

I am providing general fraud prevention controls and then transaction-level controls for:

  • Cash receipts and billing
  • Cash payments and purchasing
  • Payroll

governmental internal controls

Useful Governmental Internal Controls

General Internal Controls

  1. Have bank statements mailed directly to someone outside of accounting; recipient should peruse bank statement activity before providing it to accounting
  2. Perform surprise audits (use outside CPA if possible)
  3. Elected officials and management should review the monthly budget to actual reports (and other pertinent financial reports)
  4. Map internal control processes by transaction cycle (preferably done by a seasoned CPA); once complete, provide the map to all employees involved in the cycle; when control weaknesses exist, institute additional controls (see 11. below)
  5. Use a whistleblower program (preferably use an outside whistleblower company)
  6. Reconcile bank statements monthly (have a second person review and initial the reconciliation)
  7. Purchase fidelity bond coverage (based on risk exposure)
  8. Periodically request from the government’s bank a list of all bank accounts in the name of the government or with the government’s federal tax I.D. number; compare the list to bank accounts set up in the general ledger
  9. Secure computer access physically (e.g., locked doors) and electronically (e.g., passwords)
  10. Do not allow the electronic transmission (e.g., email) of sensitive data (e.g., social security numbers) without the use of protected transmission technology (e.g. Sharefile); create policy and train staff
  11. Where possible, segregate who (1) authorizes transactions, (2) records transactions, (3) reconciles records, and (4) has custody of assets; when segregation of duties is not possible, require documented second-person review and/or surprise audits

Transaction Level Controls

Cash Receipts and Billing Controls

  1. Use a centralized receipting location (when possible)
  2. Assign each cash drawer to a separate person; require daily reconciliation to receipts; require second person review
  3. Deposit cash timely (preferably daily); require the composition of cash and checks to be listed on each deposit ticket (to help prevent check-for-cash substitution)
  4. Immediately issue a receipt for each payment received; a duplicate of the receipt or electronic record of the receipt is to be retained by the government
  5. A supervisor should review receipting-personnel adjustments made to accounts receivable
  6. Do not allow the cashing of personal checks (e.g., from cash drawers)

Cash Payments and Purchasing Controls

  1. Guard all check stock (as though it were cash)
  2. Do not allow hand-drawn checks; only issue checks through the computerized system; if hand-drawn checks are issued, have a second person create and post the related journal entry
  3. Do not allow the signing of blank checks
  4. Limit check signing authorization to as few people as possible
  5. Require two employees to effectuate each wire transfer
  6. Persons who authorize wire transfers should not make related accounting entries
  7. Require a documented bidding process for larger purchases (and sealed bids for significant purchases or contracts); specify procedures for evaluating and awarding contracts.
  8. Limit the number of credit cards and the chargeable maximum amount on each card
  9. Allow only one person to use an individual credit card; require receipts for all purchases
  10. Require a street address and social security or tax I.D. numbers for each vendor added to accounts payable vendor list (P.O. box numbers without a street address should not be accepted)
  11. Signed vendor checks should not be returned to those who authorized the payment; mail checks directly to vendors
  12. Compare payroll addresses with vendor addresses for potential fictitious vendors (usually done with electronic audit tools such as IDEA or ACL)

Payroll Controls

  1. Provide a departmental overtime budget/expense report to governing body or relevant committee
  2. Use direct deposit for payroll checks
  3. Payroll rates keyed into the payroll system must be supported by proper authorization in the employee personnel file
  4. Immediately remove terminated employees from the payroll system
  5. Use biometric time clocks to eliminate buddy-punching
  6. Check for duplicate direct-deposit bank account numbers
  7. A department head should provide written authorization for overtime prior to payment

Your Recommendations

What additional controls do you recommend? Share your thoughts below.

Rita Crundwell story
Dec 06

The Rita Crundwell Story: Why Some Ranches Have a Bad Smell

By Charles Hall | Asset Misappropriation

Is it possible for one person to steal over $53 million from a city with an annual budget of less than $10 million? Yes. The Rita Crundwell story provides a cautionary tale for small businesses, governments, and nonprofits.

The Theft

Rita Crundwell, comptroller, and treasurer of Dixon, Illinois stole $53 million over a twenty-year period. The city of 16,000 residents held Crundwell in high esteem. One friend described her as “sweet as pie.” Another said: “You could not find a nicer person.”

So why did she steal? It appears Rita just enjoyed the good life. She used the money to fund one of the top quarter horse ranches in the country, and she did it with style: Some of the funds were used to purchase over $300,000 of jewelry and a $2.1 million motor coach vehicle.

Rita Crundwell story

The picture is courtesy of AdobeStock.com

Her annual salary? $80,000.

The city’s annual budget? $6 to $8 million

Were yearly audits performed? Yes.

Were budgets approved? Yes.

Too Much Trust

So how did this happen? Rita Crundwell won the trust of those around her—especially that of mayor and council. In April 2011, finance commissioner and veteran council member, Roy Bridgeman, praised Crundwell calling her “a big asset to the city as she looks after every tax dollar as if it were her own.” (Too much trust is the main cause of white-collar crime.)

It was a disturbing moment when Dixon Mayor James Burke presented the FBI with evidence of Crundwell’s fraud. Burke later recalled his emotions and words: “I literally became sick to my stomach, and I told him that I hoped my suspicions were all wrong.” Such a response is understandable given that Crundwell had worked for the city for decades. She had fooled everyone.

Secret Bank Account

According to the mayor, the city’s annual audits raised no red flags, and the city’s primary bank never reported anything suspicious. So how did she steal the money? In 1990, Crundwell opened a secret bank account in the name of the city (titled the RSDCA account: the initials stood for reserve sewer development construction account). Crundwell was the only authorized check signer for the account, and the RSDCA bank account was never set up on the city’s general ledger. The City’s records reflected none of the RSDCA deposits or disbursements.

Crundwell would write and sign manual checks from a legitimate city capital project fund checking account, completing the check payee line with “Treasurer.” (Yes, Crundwell had the authority to issue checks with just her signature—even for legitimate city bank accounts.) She would then deposit the check into her secret account. From the bank’s perspective, a transfer had been made from one city bank account to another (from the capital projects fund to the reserve sewer development construction fund).

Accounting Cover-up

While the capital project fund disbursement was recorded on the city’s books, the RSDCA deposit was not. A capital project fund journal entry was made for each check debiting capital outlay expense and crediting cash. But no entry was made to the city’s records for the deposit to the RSDCA account. Once the money was in the RSDCA account, Crundwell wrote checks for personal expenses—and she did so for over twenty years.

To complete her deceit, Crundwell provided auditors with fictitious invoices from the Illinois Department of Transportation; these invoices included the following notation: Please make checks payable to Treasurer, State of Illinois. (So the canceled checks made out to Treasurer agreed with directions on the invoice, but the words “State of Illinois” were conveniently left off the check payee line.) Remember Crundwell was the treasurer of Dixon. 

Those invoices and the related checks were often for round dollar amounts (e.g., $250,000) and most were for more than $100,000. In one year alone, Crundwell embezzled over $5 million.

Vacation Leads to Arrest

So how was she caught? While Rita was on an extended vacation for horse shows, the city hired a replacement for her. For some reason, Crundwell’s substitute requested all bank account statements from the city’s bank. As the bank statements were reviewed, the secret bank account was discovered. And soon after that, the mayor contacted the FBI.

The Weakness

Why was Rita able to steal $53 million? Wait for it. A lack of segregation of duties.

Rita could:

  • Write checks
  • Approve payments
  • Create and monitor the budget
  • Enter transactions into the accounting system
  • Reconcile the bank statements

The Fix

Multiple people should perform accounting duties, not just one.

Moreover, accounting employees should annually take a one-week vacation (or longer). And while they are gone, someone else should perform the vacant person’s duties. The vacation itself is not the key to this control. The performance of the absent accountant’s duties is. Why? Doing so allows the replacement person to understand the work of the vacant employee. But, more importantly, the substitute can note any unusual or fraudulent activity.

Here’s another action to take: Periodically contact your organization’s bank and ask for a list of all bank accounts. Then compare the list to the bank accounts in your general ledger. If a bank account is not on the general ledger, see why. And request a copy of the related signature card from the bank.

What Happened to Rita Crundwell?

So, what happened to Rita? She was sentenced to 19.5 years in prison. Here are pictures from the Chicago Tribune that shed light on the fraud.

All the Queens Horses

Kelly Richmond Pope has masterfully captured the Rita Crundwell tale in the movie All the Queen’s Horses, available on Amazon. Think auditing is boring? Then watch the movie. It does a better job of explaining the psychological and financial damage of fraud than any textbook. 

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