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Eye On Boise

State auditors, Idaho treasurer at odds over office audit

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislative auditors found several problems with how Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane oversaw his office's accounting, including how he documented trips to New York City where some costs were found to exceed allowable limits. Crane disputes the findings, contending no previous audits of his office raised similar concerns. Still, the four-term Republican agreed to report expenditures through Idaho's accounting system in the future, among other changes. For months, it's been public knowledge Crane's office was under scrutiny, after The Associated Press reported he used stretch limousines on New York trips to transport family members. Monday's report outlines three findings: Crane's New York trips weren't adequately documented; he didn't properly account for a taxpayer-provided Chevron card used to gas up his private vehicle; and he exceeded his office's authority with several programs. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Audit shows problems in Idaho treasurer's office

By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislative auditors released a report Monday accusing Treasurer Ron Crane of improperly documenting his office's expenditures, violations they say include failing to use Idaho's accounting system to track annual trips to New York City.

Crane broadly disputed the auditors' seven-page review, contending no previous reviews of his office raised similar concerns. Still, he agreed to record future expenditures through the state's accounting system, in hopes of bolstering confidence he's properly tracking his office's affairs.

"This office has begun using the Travel Express system administered by the state controller's office," Crane told auditors, in his official response. "Travel vouchers will be prepared for all participants (on the New York trips) so it is clearly evident that expenses are transparent and within state policies."

Don Berg, manager of the Legislative Services audits division, said Monday he stood by his staff's findings based on an assessment of treasurer's office records from 2008-10. Berg said he plans to issue a follow-up report in 90 days that would measure Crane's progress.

"Although the first sentence in each one of his responses is he disagrees, the substance of it is, he's at least willing to move forward with what we recommend," Berg said.

For months, it's been public knowledge that Crane's office was under official scrutiny, after The Associated Press reported he used stretch limousines on New York trips to transport family members and their luggage, adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of the trips.

In November, Crane agreed to have family members pick up their share of ground transportation in the future.

Also, Monday's report states, instead of reporting costs from the New York trips through Idaho's accounting system, Crane instead let them be deducted from hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of short-term debt securities that Idaho sells annually, without reviewing whether they were accurate.

Additionally, some meals on hotel invoices appeared to be for guests, not participants in the trip, auditors wrote. And since just a single member of the New York-bound delegation turned in expenses from meals or travel for state review, auditors concluded "this situation raises serious concerns that meals and other costs of official travel were paid for by others and that pecuniary benefits in excess of $50 were received" in violation of Idaho law.

Crane said nobody on the trips did anything wrong.

"All meals and other costs were compliant with Idaho statutes relative to pecuniary benefits — and evidence was given to support that contention," he wrote.

This is not the first time Crane has had to answer questions regarding his use of state funds.

Canyon County Prosecutor Bryan Taylor announced last week he wouldn't pursue a criminal case against Crane for nearly $8,000 in charges to state credit card the treasurer used to gas up his personal vehicle.

Taylor determined Idaho travel policies that would likely forbid state employees from using a state-issued credit card to gas up their personal cars don't apply to elected officials like Crane.

Taylor did recommend Crane avoid making undocumented trips with taxpayer-funded gasoline, including to church, the post office and the store, in the future.

Crane agreed, telling auditors in a statement that while it's his right to use the card for his private car, he's "developed a procedure for documentation of expenses relating to gas card usage."

Berg, of the audits division, said Monday he's seeking clarification from the Idaho attorney general's office, on whether travel policies governing state employees also apply to officials like Crane.

Auditors also concluded Crane exceeded his office's authority with several programs, including the annual "Smart Women Smart Money" conference he helps fund through a $10,000 annual donation from his office's budget that's paid to a nonprofit organization he created to run the financial literacy event.

"The objective of this conference is not a specifically authorized program by the Legislature in the state treasurer's office, and the direct use of general funds and staff time to support this effort is therefore questionable," auditors wrote, adding the relationship between the treasurer's office and his own nonprofit raises concerns about a potential conflict of interest.

Crane contends his office has organized the financial sessions for more than 10 years without complaint from auditors.

"Never has a question been raised about our support for this program," Crane wrote. "In fact, we have asked the legislative auditor in the past about staff working on the conference, and been told it was fine as long as it did not interfere with the performance of other regular duties."

To clear up any confusion, however, Crane last week asked the Idaho Legislature to expand his authority to run financial-literacy workshops. A bill is working its way through the House now.

In addition, Crane said he's seeking legal advice to restructure his Idaho Women's Money Conference Inc. nonprofit to allay concerns about the appearance of conflicts or other issues.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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