Theft of government property happens. Cash. Equipment. Vehicles. Inventory. You name it. Today, we take a look at how one elected governmental official took a substantial amount of cash.
Some twenty years ago, I was working on an audit of a county tax commissioner’s office. We were noticing differences in the receipts and the cash collections.
So one day I walk into the Tax Commissioner’s office. As I step in, I see several thousand dollars of cash laying on her desk. So, I remarked to her, “Haven’t made a deposit lately?” She laughed and said, “No, I’ve been too busy lately.”
I thought to myself, “Strange. She knows we’re here for the annual audit, and she has all this undeposited cash in open view. It’s as though she has no fear.”
The next day a gentleman comes into the room where we (the auditors) were working and whispers to me, “The Commissioner has a cocaine habit.” I did not know the fellow, so I wondered if the assertion had any merit. Regardless, this was shaping up to be an interesting audit.
Our audit disclosed unaccounted-for funds of over $300,000 in the year one. Year two, the differences continued and exceeded $500,000. After three years, the unaccounted-for amount was in the $800,000 range.
Why was she not removed? Tax Commissioners are elected in Georgia, so the only person that could remove her was the governor. The local county commissioners could not dismiss her.
Finally, the FBI was brought in. But even they could not prove who was stealing the money. Why? The tax office had two cash drawers and eight clerks. All eight worked out of both drawers. So when cash went missing, you could not pin the differences on any one person.
In addition, the books were a disaster, postings were willy-nilly. There was no rhyme or reason–what I call “designed smoke.” The smoke covers up theft of government property.
The tax commissioner eventually went to prison for tax evasion. She made the mistake of depositing some of the stolen cash into her personal bank account, and the Feds were able to prove she had not reported the income.
The primary weakness was the lack of design in the collection process. Two or more people should never work from one cash drawer. Deposits were not timely made (and in many cases, not made at all). And then the books (mainly the tax digest) was not appropriately posted as collections were received.
So, let’s see how to lessen theft of government property.
The primary fix was to remove the tax commissioner.
Next, each cash drawer should be assigned to only one person at a time.
Cash receipts should be written and the tax digest should be posted as tax payments are received.
Finally, deposits should be made daily.
Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty-five years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, The Why and How of Auditing, Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy, and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.