Former city employee arrested: Mayor: City has improved safeguards to prevent other thefts

Published 8:11 am Friday, December 9, 2016

A former city employee who is alleged to have stolen over $5,000 in city funds was arrested on Thursday by the state police.

Former water clerk Jodi Herrington has been charged with theft of $750 or more but less than $5,000, computer fraud, filing or maintaining false public records and malfeasance in office.

In June, an investigative audit into missing payments led authorities to Herrington.

“Although three city employees were responsible for collecting payments during this period, … Herrington was primarily responsible for receiving, recording, and processing 89 percent ($5,006) of the missing funds,” said an executive summary of the audit report. “These records further indicate that Ms. Herrington altered City records to conceal property tax payments collected but not deposited. By failing to deposit all property tax funds collected and by altering city records to conceal property tax amounts not deposited, Ms. Herrington may have violated state law.”

The alleged thefts happened between Sept. 16, 2015 and Feb. 12, 2016. In total, the city was short $5,612, though state auditors couldn’t conclude who may have taken the rest of the money.

The auditor’s report was not a criminal investigation and state police Troop L spokesperson Dustin Dwight said that report triggered their criminal investigation which recently concluded with Herrington’s release.

Mayor Wendy Perrette said she is happy the audit’s report led to a criminal investigation.

“I think it’s important that the public know that we don’t sweep this under the rug. It’s being addressed,” she said.

The audit report says, “Ms. Herrington states that she was not certain how payments she collected would have been cancelled in the system and the funds not deposited. She agreed that she had likely collected the cash payments but denied taking any of the missing funds. She stated it was possible that, when she stepped away from her workstation, another city employee could have used her computer and system access to cancel the payments and then remove the cash from her drawer.

“We spoke to all of the other clerks who received payments during the audit period. Each of these clerks stated that they worked from their own drawers and used their own system usernames and passwords. In addition, neither of the two clerks with the workstations near Ms. Herrington’s workstation noted any instances in which another city employee went into Ms. Herrington’s drawer.”

Several people who had made payments that were later cancelled got notices of delinquent taxes.

Besides ad valorem tax payments, Herrington may have taken about $920 in utility payments from mid-December through late January. Another $300 is missing from Dec. 1 and it’s not clear who could have taken that money. In addition, a total of $306 is missing from mid-September from the drawers of three employees, but the audit report says this discrepancy could be due to a computer error.

However, the audit report notes that the collections office had weak controls, so someone else may have taken the money.

At the time, utility clerks accepted payments and later put their day’s payments into sealed money bags. The next day, an employee of the city would count the money in the bags and notice discrepancies. That is where the missing $1,526 turned up.

However, the audit report notes that there is no independent verification of funds when they’re initially placed into the money bags, and because the bags move to different locations and are handled by different people several times, “the city could not determine the point at which these funds went missing during the reconciliation process.”

While three discrepancies, totaling $920, were all payments collected by Herrington, someone else could have removed the cash from the money bag later in the day.But there was one instance when a shortage in Herrington’s bag was immediately noted.

According to the report, on Jan. 26 this year, another employee verified Herrington’s cash count before Herrington left to run an errand and that employee noted a $320 shortfall and verified the cash count.

Both Herrington and the other employee, with the last name of Hines, were placed on administrative leave with pay on Feb. 19.

Herrington resigned Feb. 26 and, based on the audit, Hines was asked to return to work.

Mayor Wendy Perrette wrote a letter to the state auditor’s office, and in that letter she wrote she doesn’t believe Hines was at fault or is responsible for any of the missing funds.

In an interview earlier this year, Perrette pointed out that the city called state auditors in February, as soon as the discrepancies were noticed.

In addition, Perrette said the city’s policies and procedures have been updated to strengthen internal controls.

“To our knowledge we fixed it and we addressed everything in the audit,” she said this week.