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The Washington state auditor’s office has called for a tightening of internal controls at Spokane County in the wake of an alleged theft of $1.38 million in taxpayer money by a former employee from the county’s risk management office, according to a report issued by the office Thursday.
The alleged thefts from the county, which occurred between January 2007 and December 2016, indicated that “internal controls at the county were not adequate to safeguard public resources,” the state auditor’s report said.
A county investigation found that the former property claims technician, who was employed by the risk management department from April 2001 to May 2018, used at least 45 relatives and acquaintances to cash checks for falsified liability claims, according to the state auditor’s report.
The Spokesman-Review reported that the former county employee accused of the theft, Rhonda Ackerman, was also recently accused in a civil lawsuit of stealing money from her mother, who has dementia, after assuming power of attorney over her bank and retirement accounts.
The risk management department put in place safeguards to improve processes and enhance procedures for verifying the validity of each claim in October 2018 as a result of this theft, said Steve Bartel, director, risk management, Spokane County at a press conference Thursday posted to Facebook.
These steps include establishing the risk management department director as the primary approver of liability payments and limiting when a designated backup may approve payments.
“The county carries crime/employee dishonesty insurance. In this case, when we found out the extent of the theft, I reported that to our crime insurance policy. They have accepted and opened up a claim,” Mr. Bartel said.
“I do expect full repayment of the $1.38 million minus our $25,000 deductible,” he said at the press conference.
In its report, the state auditor’s office recommended that the county strengthen internal controls over the claims payment process to “ensure adequate oversight and monitoring to safeguard public resources.”
This should include an “independent, thorough review of all risk management department payments processed by the county auditor’s office,” it said.
The county filed a report with the Spokane police department in August 2018, and findings of the state auditor’s report have also been referred to police.
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