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Stories Added - July 2008
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Audit shows $36,000 missing from JP office
Trinity Standard - July 2008
By GREG PEAK
Area news editor
GROVETON – There is more than $36,000 missing and believed stolen from the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace’s accounts, Trinity County Commissioners were told Monday.
In a report filed by County Auditor Sheila K. Johnson, commissioners were formally notified of the loss and were presented with a list of recommendations to correct financial accounting problems that may have contributed to the possible theft.
Johnson told commissioners she was assisted in her audit by Texas Ranger Joe Harrelson and the completed report has now been turned over to District Attorney Joe Ned Dean for possible prosecution.
Prior to the formal presentation of the auditor’s recommendations, Pct. 3 JP Bobby Nicholds of Trinity apologized to the court for the situation and indicated he was in full agreement with the changes being proposed by Johnson.
Nicholds told commissioners it appears a former clerk had “deceived, lied and cheated” in order to take county funds.
“This is particularly upsetting to me because this was someone I have known for most of my life,” Nicholds said.
The JP said he would work with the auditor to make the needed changes in order to prevent this from ever happening again.
“This is not something that is unique,” Johnson told the commissioners. “Every conference I go to, someone talks about problems with financial controls within their JP offices.”
She said in small counties such as Trinity, the staff in these offices is always small – one or two people including the JP. These means they may not be watched as closely as in larger departments and opportunities for mischief tend to arise more frequently.
One of the changes already implemented in all JP offices throughout the county should go a long way toward solving some of the problems, she said.
It was noted that for several years, the county’s independent auditor, Thomas Ramey of Trinity, has recommended that tighter financial controls be put in place in the JP offices, so the county recently obtained a special computer program to meet that recommendation.
“All JP offices are now using a Case Management Software which prints receipts; consequently receipt books are no longer being used except in a case where the computer is unavailable,” she noted
“When a ‘manual’ receipt is used, the judge needs to insure that it is transferred to the software and accounted for on a monthly report,” she said.
Johnson told commissioners that while the computer program will go a long way toward solving problems she discovered in the Precinct 3 office, it will not be a perfect solution and vigilance will need to be maintained.
The auditor said she began the audit of the Precinct 3 financial records in April after some discrepancies were noted.
When she completed the probe in June, she had examined the records between Jan. 1, 2004 and April 30, 2008.
During that period she said she found that the bank deposits fell $36,396.02 short of the amount of money for which receipts were issued.
In addition, she noted the office’s bank statements had not been reconciled and there were currently $11,004.04 in outstanding checks issued by the office. However, only $1,481.52 remained in the bank account to cover those checks.
Johnson noted that during her audit, she found five “unofficial” receipt books and she was unable to trace all money received to an official county receipt. She said this meant there was money coming into the office that was not being reported or accounted for in county records.
She added that the “official” receipt books – those issued by the county which bear its seal and address information – were not properly maintained that some were missing completely while others had individual receipts missing.
The auditor said while performing random tests of the office’s dockets, she also found “numerous instances where merchants were not reimbursed after the defendant had paid the JP office” for hot check offenses.
“Additionally, each docket tested had exceptions such as altered receipts, the use of unofficial receipts and county fines not paid into the county,” she stated in the report.
Johnson noted that the majority of the money collected through the JP office was to reimburse merchants for hot checks and to pay constables who serve the hot check warrants.
The auditor said that during the course of the investigation, both Nicholds and his new clerk were “very cooperative” and helped locate the information and records that were needed.
When asked by commissioners if there was any possibility of recovering the money, Johnson said she was asked by the district attorney not to publicly comment on the matter at this time.
“All I can tell you is that is something that Mr. Dean is looking into,” she said.