January 19, 2011 in City

Embezzlement case triggers review of county rules

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Kootenai County’s new clerk, Cliff Hayes, has hired a former bank fraud investigator to review county procedures for handling money in the wake of a suspected embezzlement by a former deputy clerk.

Hayes, who served 22 years as Post Falls’ police chief, tapped one of his former captains, who also worked for years in security and auditing for the banking industry. Jim Simmerman will work part time at $15 an hour to complete the review, Hayes said.

When Simmerman worked in the banking industry, Hayes said, “He would knock on the bank’s door at 7 o’clock in the morning and everyone inside would panic. He went to any bank that they were suspecting problems in.”

Hayes also said that he has asked the state controller’s office to review county accounting procedures within the next few months. Chief Deputy Controller Dan Goicoechea said a team likely will be sent to Kootenai County to do that review, which will evaluate “internal controls” – the procedures “that ensure proper accounting and spending of public funds.”

Simmerman, meanwhile, will spend several months reviewing everything about how the county is handling money, Hayes said. That will include “where is cash coming in, how are we counting it, (and) do we have two people doing it? He’s going through all the steps. … I want to figure out that we’re doing everything right.”

Immediately before Hayes assumed office, the county commissioners and former Clerk Dan English announced the suspected embezzlement of almost $140,000 by the former deputy clerk. Sandy Martinson, 62, has since been charged with one count of grand theft. Due to her employment with Kootenai County, Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall is handling the case. The suspected theft was discovered upon a routine review of records when Martinson retired in November, county officials said.

Simmerman also will clarify explanations on the weekly payables report sent to the Board of County Commissioners, Hayes said.

“It’s hundreds of items and the explanations on it are not clear to me and they are not clear to the commissioners,” Hayes said. “It should say what it was, who it’s for, when we bought it, how much it is. When I can’t understand it, it needs to be fixed.”

Hayes said it’s not OK for only county managers to understand what each entry means. “I want the average citizens to know what it means.”

Commissioner Todd Tondee said he supports Hayes’ actions to make sure county funds have proper oversight. He said the checks Martinson is suspected of writing from the account under investigation “were never on our list (of payables). The board is responsible for making sure all expenses … are approved by us. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s the way we thought it was.”


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