Written by Kelly Kaczala
Saturday, 25 October 2008 19:21
A recently released 2007 state audit cleared the township of credit card fraud and “other illegal issues,” according to a press release issued by Trustee Joe Gray.
“Although earlier accusations by Trustee [Joe] Kiss and Fiscal Officer Julie Van Nest included credit card fraud and other illegal issues, there were no findings to support those concerns,” stated Gray in the press release.
“The auditor’s office found that 92 percent of all transactions tested were in compliance with required documentation,” states Gray. “To improve this percentage, the township will increase its use of `Then and Now’ certificates. This certainly doesn’t support the allegations of 95 percent of the invoices do not have receipts attached as stated by the current fiscal officer, Julie Van Nest.”
Van Nest declined comment for this article.
Van Nest, who became fiscal officer after beating incumbent Don Murray in last November’s election, almost immediately, upon taking office, became enmeshed in an argument between Gray and Kiss over public records requests of financial records.
Kiss, who was also elected last November, had campaigned to restore fiscal responsibility to the township. Upon taking office, Kiss repeatedly asked Gray and Murray for copies of the township’s credit card statements from 2007, but was rebuffed.
Township trustee meetings were filled to capacity by an angry crowd clamoring for Kiss’s right to review the statements.
Last February, Kiss submitted a written public records request to Murray, a close ally of Gray’s, asking for copies of the credit card statements.
“I have requested verbally one year’s copies of credit card statements of all credit cards issued to Jerusalem Township,” stated Kiss in the Feb. 28 letter. “I have not received them. I am formally requesting in writing today that you make these available to me immediately.”
Murray responded in a letter on March 4 that stated Kiss could not have the copies unless he was more specific with his request.
Murray then announced that he froze the books, and requested a special audit by the state auditor as a result of Kiss’s public records requests. Murray said at the time that Kiss, in making the public records request, had accused township officials of fraud.
“I’ve asked for a special audit that will protect everyone who sits on this panel,” Murray said at a trustee meeting February 26.
Kiss had denied he accused anyone of fraud, and that he only wanted to review the financial records.
At a March 25 trustee meeting, Murray had said the audit would most likely occur in April.
The Press later contacted the state auditor’s office and learned that Murray had never requested an audit as he had previously said.
Kiss resubmitted his public records request soon after Van Nest was sworn into office in April. A firestorm erupted after Van Nest said she could not account for all the credit card receipts.
Last week, Kiss said the township would not have been in an uproar had Murray complied with his initial request for copies of last year’s credit card statements,
Murray did not return calls to The Press for comment.
Emily Frazee, deputy press officer with Ohio Auditor Mary Taylor’s office, told The Press last week that audits look at several financial documents.
“We don’t go through every single receipt or journal entry,” said Frazee. “We run a series of tests in areas that are high risk. We might look in an area where there’s a lot of cash flow. We also look at areas that haven’t been looked at in previous audits. Should there be an area of high concern that’s brought to our attention, we’ll look at that as well.”
Frazee said the township “had all the accounting records present to get a good picture of their finances.”
Jerusalem Township had “all the documents necessary,” for the audit, she added.
“Receipts, bankrolls, things of that nature, were available for us to conduct a good efficient audit and get an idea of its financial standings,” said Frazee.
Though the audit found no irregularities with the credit cards, it did uncover a major violation against Trustee Rodney Graffis, who owes the township over $20,000 in reimbursements he illegally received for health insurance coverage.
Graffis was already getting health insurance coverage through his union. Kiss and Bill Hoops, a former official of the food pantry, for months raised questions at trustee meetings about Graffis’s eligibility to receive the reimbursements.
Jerusalem Township reimburses township trustees for the out-of-pocket cost of health insurance premiums if they are denied or opt out of coverage from their primary employer. Auditors reviewed the documentation Graffis submitted for reimbursement and found that health insurance was part of his primary employer’s benefit package.
“A review of Mr. Graffis’ supporting documentation…showed that his health insurance premiums were part of his union benefit package and were paid by his employer,” states the report. “The township mistakenly believed they could reimburse Mr. Graffis for this amount.”
Gray, former Trustee Floyd Tefft, and Murray signed the warrants that led to the overpayment to Graffis in the amount of $20,176.04, states the report. As a result, they are also liable if Graffis does not repay the township.
“…Because all township officers and the fiscal officer approved and signed the warrants resulting in improper payments, Murray, Gray, Tefft, and their bonding company, the Ohio Township Association Risk Management Authority,” are liable for the entire amount of $20,174.04, states the report, which was forwarded to the Lucas County Prosecutor, and the Ohio Attorney General.
Gray, who did not return a message to The Press for comment, stated in the press release that the township “chose a method that saved nearly $5,000 per year” on health insurance.
“This method had been previously audited in 2006 with no findings,” stated Gray.
“We are saying those tax dollars need to be repaid,” said Frazee. “Graffis was ineligible for the reimbursement. Period. It’s not about methodology.”
Frazee said the 2006 audit may not have caught any problems with health insurance reimbursements because “it may not even have been an area we looked through at that time.”
“That could be a reason why we wouldn’t have found it in 2006,” said Frazee. “If the township would like us to look back farther, we would be happy to help them with that and look at the issue retroactively.”