An Oregon accountant’s allegations that a state auditor forged tax documents containing his signature appear to be substantiated by an internal investigation by the department for which she works.
But nearly six months after filing a complaint against Rebecca Thatcher and the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Joel Dollarhide, a certified public accountant with Tucker, Kissling & Associates, still plans to file a lawsuit to procure documents he claims the department has been keeping from him and recover financial damages.
Dollarhide’s complaint alleges Thatcher, an ODJFS unemployment compensation auditor, forged tax forms that had his signature on them when she was conducting an audit last summer of his client, a Sylvania builder. He said the forged audit forms show the builder as under-reporting employee wages to the Internal Revenue Service with his signature to certify the figures.
Thatcher, who was working out of the department’s Toledo office, completed the audit in June, 2009. Much of her work focused on the builder’s wage and tax records for 2007.
While reviewing the results of the audit, Dollarhide noticed that three ODJFS quarterly wage report forms were copied from a third-quarter form he had signed when Thatcher was in his office in May.
"At no time did I give Mrs. Thatcher the authorization to copy or use my signature on the other three tax forms and or any other forms,” Dollarhide says in his complaint. The department’s investigation, which was concluded in November but only released to him last month, states the evidence supports his claim.
“Evidence substantiates Thatcher obtained the signature of Joel Dollarhide…, on the report for the third quarter of 2007, on May 7, 2009, and then copied that report with the signature already affixed, for use for the first, second, and fourth quarters, amending the copies with the applicable information for each quarter,” the ODJFS investigation report says.
The report also says the evidence doesn’t support her claim she was trained to do so or that Dollarhide gave her permission to copy the signed form.
“It appears Rebecca Thatcher violated… Standards of Employee Conduct, by falsifying or altering an official or public document, including work documents, which constitutes dishonesty,” the report concludes. It recommends a review of the matter for disciplinary actions and procedure violations.
In addition, the report recommends a new audit of Dollarhide’s client be conducted by ODJFS personnel from another office and they not be informed of the findings from Thatcher’s audit.
Even before ODJFS investigators interviewed Thatcher, the department issued a memo to its auditing staff that bars the copying of signed forms under the circumstances which it says Thatcher did.
The memo, issued on Aug. 18, states:
“It is tempting to photocopy one report for the number of reports needed and to simply alter the wage information. However, altering reports reduces their reliability and may subject them to scrutiny. A photocopied signature without manual endorsement by the signatory is absolutely unacceptable.”
For Dollarhide, a related issue has also left him frustrated.
Thatcher’s audit results claimed the wages of some employees were under-reported, which in turn meant deductions for state unemployment contributions would also be under-reported. But the results released to Dollarhide didn’t list wages for individual employees - only quarterly totals.
That employee information is necessary, he said in an interview last week.
“In order to review the proposed adjustments with my client, it is necessary to have the ability to trace the amounts back to the payroll registers by employee,” he said. “This ensures that each employee receives the proper credit for their wages earned in the state for unemployment.
“When I could not trace the amounts back to the payroll registers, I was unable to verify Mrs. Thatcher’s proposed adjustments to my client. If I would not have caught the forgery of my signature, then I could have been held liable to my client for the penalties and interest since my signature indicated I was certifying that the information contained in the reports were true and correct, which would have resulted in my client being assessed by the state and Internal Revenue Service for under-reporting wages for 2007.”
His complaint says he made several attempts starting June 19 to contact Thatcher to request detail by employee.
IRS notice received
The builder last summer did receive a notice from the IRS proposing an increase to the builder’s federal unemployment tax for 2007.
“The IRS stated that the proposed adjustments were due to the information that they received from the State (Ohio) unemployment insurance agency for tax period 2007,” Dollarhide’s complaint says.
The ODJFS investigation concluded, however, that the IRS letter to Dollarhide’s client “appears merely coincidental” in its timing and that the IRS’ action wasn’t based on Thatcher’s audit.
Dollarhide is also challenging that finding.
“Remember, the IRS clearly stated within their letter (to the builder) that they received the 2007 information from the state unemployment agency (which for the State of Ohio is ODJFS),” he writes in a Feb. 18 letter to Jennifer Demory, an investigations supervisor in the ODJFS Columbus, O. office.
The ODJFS investigation recommends that Thatcher’s audit figures not be recertified to the IRS.
Investigators didn’t find any occurrence of forgery by other compliance auditors in the Toledo office.
Citing Ohio confidentiality laws covering the department, Brian Harter, a public information officer with the ODJFS, said information about employers and claimants couldn’t be shared with news media.
Arnie Schropp, Jr., of the Office of Inspector General, told The Press last week his office was monitoring Dollarhide’s complaint and was waiting for the ODJFS to complete its disciplinary process.