DA Investigates Employee Tuition Claims

DA Investigates Employee Tuition Claims

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Salt Lake County district attorney has begun a criminal investigation into county employees getting college tuition paid both by the county and from outside financial aid.

The probe follows the release of an audit alleging abuses of the county's Tuition Assistance Program.

"The program itself is deficient in checks and balances," Deputy District Attorney Valerie Wilde said Monday. "We'll be looking at whether there was fraud."

The mayor's office ordered the investigation, in which investigators are to screen about 2,800 applications submitted over the past four years. Older cases are exempt because of the statute of limitations.

"Our fear is that the audit was just the tip of the iceberg," said Doug Willmore, the county's chief administrative officer.

Since 1992, the county has paid 75 percent of college tuition for employees as long as they maintained a C average.

After receiving the money in their regular paychecks, hundreds dropped the courses and pocketed the cash, according to the audit. Many also have been delinquent repaying the interest-free money.

Willmore estimates the loss to taxpayers at nearly $100,000.

The mayor's office has revamped the tuition program to reimburse employees after they complete the classes, as recommended by the auditor. That goes into effect April 30.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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