Beaufort News

Accountants delve into missing money in Treasurer's Office

Four accountants hired at the request of the county administrator and the county's top prosecutor began work Wednesday to try to determine how thousands of dollars are missing from a property-tax delinquency sale last year in the Beaufort County Treasurer's Office.

County administrator Gary Kubic and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone decided this week to hire accountants from the Atlanta office of KPMG to perform a forensic audit on Treasurer's Office accounts. The firm is trying to determine how deeply it will need to delve into the department's books, Kubic said.

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said the audit was the only way his office's ongoing investigation into the missing tax-sale money could continue because the estimates of the missing amount range from $4,000 to $300,000.

In an interview with investigators, Logan said at least $6,000 in cash payments are missing from her office, according to a sheriff's report.

"We need to have a more accurate number as it relates to theft," Tanner said. "We're not investigating bad bookkeeping practices or bad management. We're investigating theft, so we have to have that number defined, and a forensic audit is the only way to do that."

Kubic said ordering the audit became necessary after it came to light last month that Treasurer Joy Logan failed to report the theft of $600 by a former Treasurer's Office employee in 2007. The employee, Cassaundra White, was arrested March 1 by the Sheriff's Office on a charge of breach of trust with fraudulent intent. White also is a person of interest in the disappearance of the tax-sale money, according to authorities.

"Restoration of confidence in the county's banking process has to happen, and we need to embrace total transparency," Kubic said Thursday. "It's about public trust. We will get the public the answers they need."A forensic audit is the use of accounting practices to track and collect evidence, usually to investigate and prosecute criminal acts such as embezzlement or fraud, according to the Business Dictionary Web site.

Stone said the audit is a key part of the sheriff's ongoing investigation into financial discrepancies in the Treasurer's Office.

"We're dealing with public money and public trust, and I don't take either of those lightly," Stone said. "If there are questions involving public money, there needs to be an investigation, and it needs to be thorough."

Logan, who first reported the missing tax sale money to Kubic, said she and her staff would cooperate with the auditors and that the review could be "very helpful."

As to the employee theft in 2007, Logan said supervisors noticed $600 missing from White's bank deposit bag. When confronted, White confessed to stealing the money and gave it back, according to Logan. White told Logan and others she took the money to pay her father's medical bills. Since the money was immediately return, Logan said, she didn't think it necessary to contact the police.

"I'm only a human being," Logan said Thursday. "I regret that decision now because of the explosion it has caused in the newspaper, but at the time, it seemed like the only human thing to do."

White resigned in 2007after the theft and was re-hired by the Treasurer's Office the following year, according to county records. She was fired Feb. 19 after Logan was notified by the Sheriff's Office that it intended to pursue criminal charges against the former employee in connection with 2007 theft.

Stone declined to comment on whether Logan would face charges for not reporting the crime.

Though the county pays the salaries of Treasurer's Office employees, the county treasurer is an elected position and does not answer to the county administrator or Beaufort County Council. Logan faces re-election in November and says she intends to again seek the office she's held since January 1991.

Terms of the county's agreement with KPMG have not been finalized, Kubic said.