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Town’s former finance officer reportedly embezzled $11,216 – Laurinburg Exchange

RALEIGH — According to a report from the Office of the State Auditor, a former finance officer for the town of East Laurinburg illegally siphoned more than $11,200 from the town’s bank account during her employment between December 2016 and March 2018.

East Laurinburg has found itself in the news over the past year because of a lack of annual audits being completed since 2017, which has sparked the possibility of the town losing its charter after efforts by state officials to find a solution failed.

In the report released Wednesday morning, the uses by the former finance officer — who was not named — included:

— A total of 13 checks written to pay the finance officer’s personal utility bills, totaling $2,674.

— Fourteen payments for gas totaling $4,102.

— Six payments to the finance officer for “petty cash” totaling $905.

— Checks to the finance officer totaling $880 for various reasons listed.

In total, there were 42 transactions pinpointed by the report deemed questionable, totaling $8,542. Of those 42 transactions, 28 were checks signed by the finance officer and 22 of those were signed by the finance officer and a town commissioner — who also happens to be the former finance officer’s mother.

Concerning the town commissioner’s signature, the report stated:

“When asked about her review process when signing checks, the mother/commissioner stated, ‘I can’t tell you if she had receipts or not. I just made a butt of myself and assumed that she had a receipt. I did not ask for one … finance director [Finance Officer] was in charge of that, and I just took it for granted that that’s what it was.’”

According to the report, as a result of the finance officer using town funds to make her personal utility payments and other questionable expenses, funds were not available for town operations. In fact, the report claims the town’s bank account was over-drafted in August 2017 and February 2018, resulting in the town being charged $444 in overdraft fees.

When investigators requested written policies and procedures from the town of East Laurinburg, the report claims they were told there were none.

“Written policies and procedures would have increased the likelihood that the Town Council would have reviewed the finance officer’s spending and would have detected her personal use of town funds or questionable expenses,” the report stated.

Legal action

Included in the state auditor’s report was a recommendation that the town of East Laurinburg seek legal action against the former finance officer, as well as seek reimbursement of the $11,216 she used for personal items.

The report pointed out the state’s general statute concerning the personal use of town funds by an employee as stating: “If an officer, agent, or employee of an entity listed below, or a person having or holding money or property in trust for one of the listed entities, shall embezzle or otherwise willfully and corruptly use or misapply the same for any purpose other than that for which such moneys or property is held, such person shall be guilty of a felony.”

Since the money involved is under $100,000 total, then the charges brought against the former finance officer would be a Class F felony.

The report stated that the town of East Laurinburg did not provide a formal response to the investigation, but Mayor Marshall Stevens Sr. reportedly stated that “the commissioners have decided to pursue charges against the former finance officer.”

De-chartering the town

State Treasurer Dale Folwell and the Local Government Commission has attempted to work with East Laurinburg officials for about a year now on getting the town’s audits up-to-date and financial situation solved — all without success.

Folwell’s stance for much of that time has been that East Laurinburg should be dechartered by the General Assembly.

“There are tools you just don’t take out of the toolbox when something can’t be fixed,” he said on Wednesday. “East Laurinburg can continue to be a viable community, but it’s not a viable government entity.

“This is an outcome that nobody ever wants,” he added.

Upcoming election

In November’s general election, East Laurinburg will be depending on the use of write-in votes to fill three of the four positions available on the town council.

Tyresa Haywood will be the lone candidate on the ballot, as she vies for re-election to the council. The other two commissioner seats up for grabs had nobody file.

Also, the mayor’s post did not attract anyone during the filing period.

According to the Scotland County Board of Elections, registered voters in East Laurinburg will have the opportunity to write in a candidate for the three vacant positions on election day. Those who potentially win the write-in election will be asked to serve, and can decide not to.

In the event a position is not filled, the current board member will be expected to continue until a replacement can be found.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-506-3023 or [email protected]