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Archive for Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Audit can’t explain how Topeka schools lost $554,000

Counterfeit check scheme went undetected for months

October 12, 2004

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— State officials said Monday they still knew little about a counterfeit check scheme that scammed the Topeka school district out of more than $554,000 during a 17-month period. Auditors said poor accounting practices contributed to the scheme going undetected for so long.

Legislators said the scandal was inexcusable and called for more investigation into the practices of the district and its former accountant, now an employee with the city of Topeka.

"To me, this is serious," said Rep. Frank Miller, R-Independence and a member of the Legislative Post Audit Committee. "Some heads ought to roll. There should be some criminal investigation."

Between May 14, 2001, and Feb. 9, 2003, 17 counterfeit checks totaling $554,149.70 were paid from the district's bank account to accounts in China, Latvia and Taiwan. Four were paid to Best Grade Trading Ltd. of Hong Kong.

Randy Tongier, the lead auditor who investigated the incident for legislators, said the counterfeit checks were not detected by the district's accountant, and discrepancies between the district's books and its bank statements were reported as outstanding checks that had yet to be deducted from the district's bank account.

"He used a process that assumed all checks paid by the bank were accurate and legitimate and didn't compare those checks with the checks originally written by the district," Tongier said. "As a result, the bank account was never really reconciled."

The accountant declined to talk with auditors and Topeka school officials.

Tongier said the report found the district failed to provide sufficient oversight on its bank reconciliation practices to catch the fraud as it was occurring.

However, Tongier said, the audit didn't include determining exactly how the money was taken from the district or how much liability the district, its employees or independent auditors may have.

Topeka Supt. Tony Sawyer told legislators Monday the district had implemented many of the recommendations offered by auditors, including providing its bank a list of all checks and their amounts to be paid. Other policy changes include notifying district officials sooner of accounting irregularities.

"This is a loss that I'm not particularly pleased about on any level," he said.

Mike Jones, the district's general director of fiscal services, said investigations were still ongoing by banks, the Topeka police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, though no charges have been filed to date.

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