An Idaho Department of Health and Welfare employee was charged Thursday with seven counts of grand theft after more than $24,000 in child-support payments turned up missing.
But Janine S. Edwards, 41-year-old mother from Coeur d’Alene, insists she hasn’t stolen a penny.
“I did not take any money,” she said Thursday night, sobbing. “I return change at the grocery store when I get too much. I tell the waitress when she doesn’t charge me for a Coke.”
The Kootenai County Prosecutor’s Office, however, detailed a pattern of missing money at Edwards’ child-support collection office in Coeur d’Alene, starting last November and ending in January.
A recent state investigation determined that $24,059 in child support received by the office never made it to the bank.
“It was her job to make those deposits,” said Kootenai County deputy prosecutor Scot Nass. “The paper trail leads to her.”
Edwards believes she is either being set up or the lost money is the product of human error at an office with over-worked and under-trained employees.
She was hired by Health and Welfare two years ago as a receptionist. Her duties grew to include buying supplies and documenting child-support money brought into the office in checks and cash. She also sends that documentation to Boise and depositing the money in a bank.
According to Nass and state officials, there were seven occasions on five days in which money collected by the office was never deposited.
David Ensunsa, Health and Welfare spokesman, said the department recognized the discrepancy after comparing bank statements to child-support payment documents.
However, of the $24,059 reported missing, $21,659 involves checks that have never been cashed, Ensunsa said.
Edwards doesn’t know where the money went. She admits her bookkeeping and documentation wasn’t as good as it should have been. She admits she fell behind on paperwork at times and concedes the money may be missing partly because of errors she made.
“I don’t think like a bookkeeper; I don’t think of documenting everything,” she said.
She blames her bookkeeping problems on the amount of work she was trying to do combined with her lack of training.
Edwards said she asked for additional training but was told there wasn’t money for it.
Ensunsa said each district office was given specific directions on how the money should be handled.
In her defense, Edwards said:
Although the money is not supposed to remain in the office overnight, there were times when it had to because she lacked the time to take it to the bank that day.
When money had to be kept in her cabinet overnight she says she made sure to lock it before leaving. However, there were times when she came back to find the cabinet unlocked.
Edwards said she is one of many people in the office with access to the child-support payments and was not the only one making deposits to the bank. On occasions when she wasn’t at work, or when someone else was running to the bank, others would make the deposits, she said.
Edwards is currently suspended with pay. She suspects she has become a kind of political scapegoat.
Earlier this month, state Treasurer Lydia Justice Edwards called for the resignation of top Health and Welfare official Gary Broker.
Justice Edwards said the lost $24,000 is proof of the long-standing concerns she’s had with the department’s means of collecting child support. She wanted collection to be removed from Health and Welfare.
However, agency officials have insisted the the missing money was caused by an employee, and isn’t a breakdown by the department.
“I understand why I’m under investigation … but I also know I did not take any money,” Edwards said. “I don’t want to be someone’s sacrificial lamb.”
Ensunsa said the state, not families who depend on child support, is out the money.