A recent audit by the state Comptroller’s Office revealed $1,000 in unauthorized checks was siphoned from Mohawk Fire District accounts by the previous treasurer.
“The former treasurer,” according to the audit report, “wrote and disbursed three unauthorized checks totaling $1,000 to herself that did not appear to be for proper district purposes.”
District Chairman Ronald Hinkle identified the treasurer cited as Diane Gibson.
“She stole from the district,” he said. “We’re all in disbelief.”
The checks were written between 2009 and 2010. All of them were marked as void in the accounting records, but ultimately cleared the district’s accounts. The money was returned and Gibson resigned shortly before auditors began their work.
“It was stupid,” Hinkle said. “Everyone gets caught.”
The fire district operates on roughly $135,000 a year, so $1,000 could be significant, but Brian Butry, a spokesman for the Comptroller’s Office, was more concerned about the environment that allowed money to be siphoned than the money itself.
“These smaller local government structures often don’t have the same level of oversight as larger entities,” he said. “It’s that lack of accountability that allows funds to be misappropriated.”
The fire district is separate from town and county government and is run by a Board of Commissioners responsible for overseeing the district’s finances.
According the audit report, “These unauthorized transactions occurred because the board did not have comprehensive written policies and procedures to provide adequate guidance and internal controls over cash disbursements, did not segregate the Treasurer’s duties and did not review her work as a compensating control.”
Butry said the situation basically stemmed from a lack of financial structure. The recommendations in the audit focus on building up that internal structure.
“The Board should take immediate action to strengthen the District’s internal control environment,” the report said.
“We’re already taking steps to correct this,” Hinkle said, adding that the new treasurer, Lita Hillier, is working with commissioners to straighten things out.
Montgomery County District Attorney Jed Conboy would not comment on whether charges will be brought against Gibson.
Gibson could not be reached for comment Wednesday.