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Audit: Missing money from Kane County coffers linked to county treasurer

Audit: Missing money from Kane County coffers linked to county treasurer

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SALT LAKE CITY — A review of Kane County bank accounts has identified $90,791 in misappropriated or missing money linked to the county treasurer, according to the Utah State Auditor's Office.

Meanwhile, Kane County officials believe much more is missing.

Between Jan. 1, 2013, and Jan. 31, 2016, state auditors identified 46 "improper and illegal" transfers totalling $34,600 made from Kane County accounts to those of Kane Country Treasurer Georgia Baca, according to findings released Monday. A ledger of property tax payments indicates $56,191 in cash, which Baca was responsible for, came into the office but was never deposited.

"Potential financial irregularities may have occurred prior to the period we reviewed and may have occurred in other areas," the audit report signed by audit director Van Christensen says. "Therefore, this preliminary report should not be interpreted to mean that all potential misuse of funds has been identified."

Of the missing cash, the report stated that at minimum the audit's findings implicate Baca, who was custodian of the money, of improper oversight of county funds.

"However, we believe there is a high likelihood the treasurer misappropriated these funds," the report states. "Not only did she have access to the cash, but she had the ability to conceal the misappropriations, as noted in the following section of this report."

No criminal charges have been filed against Baca. She hand-delivered a one-sentence resignation letter to the county office on Monday morning, Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said.

Baca could not be reached for comment.

The auditor's office said a detailed reconciliation of county funds was located with checkmarks denoting the very activity the audit highlighted.

"If the treasurer had not misappropriated the funds, she would have followed up with others to resolve these discrepancies; instead it appears that her primary objective in conducting a detailed reconciliation was to conceal misappropriated funds," the report states.

The state auditor's findings revealed an online payment of $1,612.67 for Baca's cellphone, though she had been given a standard $110 stipend each month for phone costs.

Additionally, the audit detailed signs of possible attempts to disguise misappropriation of county funds, including transfers within county accounts without proper documentation and unsupported reconciliations in the county's main checking account and property tax account.

More than 3,800 adjustments reducing property tax amounts amounting to $648,301 were made by the treasurer's office, according to the audit, while at least $1 million in post-voided receipts were found, as checks were apparently voided after they were received and then re-recorded.

The processes are not subject to secondary review, the audit notes, saying there is a potential in both cases for money to be taken and then records adjusted to conceal missing receipts.

The audit also identified bank deposits that were smaller than the amounts recorded in county ledgers, indicating cash may have been taken and not deposited with adjusted checks being used to cover the difference.

Clayson said an electronic transfer that appeared to go to a personal account was discovered late one Friday night about five weeks ago. Further inspection revealed a number of similar transfers dating back several months, and by morning the Utah state auditor and attorney general's offices had been notified.

Clayson said the county treasurer's office, an elected position that deals with public money, demands public trust. Moving forward, the county will work to institute safeguards to prevent opportunities for theft or fraud, he said.

"We're glad that we detected this and hopefully are addressing all of the matters to return all of our processes to a normal process as quick as possible," Clayson said.

Kane County Attorney Rob Van Dyke said the Utah Attorney General's Office is investigating the case. Van Dyke said he suspects theft of county funds may have been going on for years, estimating it will be several months before the investigation will reach a point where charges can be filed.

According to Utah State Court records, a debt collection complaint was filed against Baca in August 2011. In July 2014 Baca paid a $20,913 judgment and resolved the case.

Baca was elected Kane County treasurer in 2006. According to a candidate Q&A published in June 2014 by Southern Utah News during her re-election bid, Baca received an associate degree in accounting and computer science from Stevens-Henager Business College.

"There are other numerous things we do in the treasurer's office," Baca said in the Q&A, detailing her duties. "One of those is to help the public. I have enjoyed helping the residents and property owners of Kane County, and hope that I can continue helping them for another term."

Baca said she made efforts during her tenure to improve the treasure's office, noting that a February 2014 independent audit hadn't identified any problems.

At the time, Baca said she had been a full-time county employee for 25 years, including 13 years in the county recorder's office and almost eight years as treasurer. Her salary in 2015 was $81,066, according to state employee compensation records.

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McKenzie Romero

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