(PLATTSBURG, Mo.) The former bookkeeper of a Northwest Missouri road district embezzled over $280,000 during her seven years as secretary/treasurer, according to State Auditor Nicole Galloway.
The Auditor's Public Corruption and Fraud Division released the audit of the Plattsburg Special Road District in Clinton County, with the district receiving a rating of "poor."
The audit found former bookkeeper Ava Langner falsified financial statements to hide some of her misappropriations. Langner may have also created or modified other official records after she had been fired from the district and the State Auditor's Office had served her with a subpoena for the documents.
"Taxpayers paid for her to go down to Silver Dollar City, to go on a Carnival Cruise, to go to the Space Center in Houston," Galloway said. "This is a brazen betrayal of the public's trust."
The auditor's Public Corruption and Fraud Division investigated the claims after getting an alert from a whistleblower in September of 2018. After a preliminary investigation found the allegations credible, Auditor Galloway asked for, and received, a request from district officials to conduct an independent audit.
The improper payments began soon after Langner was hired at the company in April 2011. The payments grew to more than $50,000 a year and totaled more than $156,000 before she was fired by the district board in October 2018.
"What we found was that the board would sign blank checks and then she would take those checks to issue improper payments to her and her companies," Galloway said.
Over the same period, Galloway said Langner made more than $125,000 in electronic payments from district funds to pay her personal credit card bills.
Langner also falsified the district's published financial statements to conceal over $131,000 of payments to her company, over $76,000 of payments for her personal credit card bills, and the district's declining financial condition and cash balances.
Corey Wilkinson, commissioner for the Plattsburg Special Roads Division, said he and the other two board members noticed the financial statements weren't adding up.
"We figured out that, you know, our secretary/treasurer at the time was - something didn't look quite right but we didn't want to make any accusations so we contacted the state auditor and went through the proper channels," Wilkinson said.
In a statement from the auditor's office, we're told the audit also found there was insufficient oversight of the secretary/treasurer by the district board, and applicable officials and employees did not have bond coverage. The lack of a written contract between the district board and Langner and her company also meant that the services to be provided for taxpayers and the rate of compensation were not established.
In response, Wilkinson said the board has taken steps to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, and has worked with Galloway to put proper oversight and protections in place.
"We found it as a board, and we complied with the state and went through all the proper channels to make sure this got remedied in the right way and didn't just get swept under the rug," Wilkinson said.
Some of these steps include seperating the secretary and treasuer positions and hiring an outside accounting firm to handle things like payroll and other expenses.
Galloway said the Public Corruption and Fraud Division will be working closely will law enforcement to provide assistant until the audit is complete.
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