Commissioners discuss forensic audit for theft investigation at courthouse

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

When they met this week, Leavenworth County commissioners considered paying for a forensic audit as part of an investigation into a theft at the County Treasurer’s Office.

Commissioners ended up taking no action Wednesday.

Leavenworth County Sheriff Andy Dedeke suggested he can meet with Treasurer Janice Van Parys to discuss possible alternatives that may be less expensive and less intrusive.

Dedeke said the Sheriff’s Office has been investigating a theft that was reported in December 2019 by the Treasurer’s Office.

Treasurer Janice Van Parys believes a total of $9,118 was taken from her office. She said the money was taken from a fund with money from the registration of motor vehicles. She said money was taken from transactions that had been voided.

She said the loophole that led to the theft has been closed.

“This was one loophole we were not aware of,” she said.

Dedeke said he hopes to determine with certainty the amount of money that was taken and, if possible, who was responsible.

Dedeke said it is not his intention to question the practices of the Treasurer’s Office.

“And I’m not alleging any malpractice,” he said.

Dedeke said he is certain a crime occurred, but he does not know the extent of it or who is responsible.

He proposed hiring an accounting firm to conduct the audit. The firm, Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Loyd, proposed performing the audit at a cost ranging from $52,500 to $72,750.

Dedeke said the Sheriff’s Office does not have the funding for the audit. He asked commissioners if they were willing to approve funding for it.

“This is an in-depth and an intrusive audit,” he said.

He said the audit would require cooperation from the treasurer.

Van Parys said she is not opposed to being audited. But she expressed concerns about the audit proposed by the sheriff.

Van Parys said there is no guarantee the audit proposed would be anything above and beyond earlier audits.

“It’s nothing more than what we already have done,” she said.

Van Parys also expressed concern about having the audit at a time when her employees are busy sending out tax statements to residents.

Dedeke said the timing of the audit is not important to him.

“To me, it doesn’t matter when it is done,” he said.

Van Parys said she is confident that $9,118 is the amount that was taken. She said the amount was arrived at through research based on recommendations from a contracted auditor.

“Do you want to spend $72,000 to find $10,000?” she said.

Commissioner Chad Schimke said he would be more interested in conducting the new audit to find the person who was responsible for theft.

Van Parys also questioned the proposal of auditing three years instead of only the year of the theft.

“If I truly thought the theft went beyond this, I would have no problem with this,” she said.

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Van Parys sent a letter to commissioners. In the letter, she stated the Kansas County Commissioners Association believes the proposed audit would go against Kansas law that makes the county treasurer independent of the direct control of county commissioners.

Commissioner Jeff Culbertson questioned why the County Commission was involved in the investigation.

“She’s an elected official just like us,” Culbertson said of the treasurer, “so I’m confused why we’re being asked to get involved in this.”

Dedeke said commissioners were being asked to be involved as a funding mechanism for the audit.

He said the county is a victim in the case.

Dedeke said he had believed the treasurer was on board with the audit.

“I was on board until I read it all and I didn’t see that we were going to get more than what we’ve had from previous auditors,” she said.

Commissioner Mike Stieben expressed concern that objections to the audit may create a public perception that county officials have something to hide.

“I think your office should be completely open,” he said to Van Parys.

Dedeke ended up recommending commissioners take no action during Wednesday’s meeting. The sheriff said he and the treasurer can meet with the investigator working on the case and possibly speak with someone from the accounting firm.

“Maybe there’s another route we can take that’s not as expensive, that’s not as intrusive,” Dedeke said.

Twitter: @LVTNewsJohnR

In other business

The Leavenworth County Commission:

• Authorized Commission Chairman Doug Smith to execute a donation agreement with Saint Luke’s Cushing Hospital. The hospital is donating the building that previously served as the hospital to the county government.

• Voted to table a proposal for a feasibility study for an Eastern Gateway project until the first week of December.

Commissioners also voted to table consideration of hiring legal counsel for the Eastern Gateway project until December.

• Voted to table consideration of a special use permit for Tri-Hull Crane Rental until Jan. 13.