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Investigators: Secretary stole over $50K with forged signatures

11:57 AM, Jun 4, 2012   |    comments
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State investigators have released new details about the schemes they say an administrative secretary used to steal more than $50,000 from the Morgan County Soil Conservation District.

The investigation was done by the Comptroller's Division of Local Government Audit.

Sharlene Justice, 49, was charged in May with one count of theft over $10,000.

Investigators found that Justice forged signatures of the district board's chairman on checks and timesheets dating back at least to 2008.  They said she also wrote checks to herself and to family members.

A portion of the unreceipted cash collected by the administrative secretary was eventually deposited and a forged check written by Ms. Justice was returned by the bank due to insufficient funds. This reduced the cash shortage to $44,727.08.

The report also noted that the soil district's board of directors failed to provide adequate oversight over the district's operations and that safeguards that might have detected the thefts sooner were lacking.

For example, auditors noted that Justice was responsible for all aspects of financial transactions, which meant no one on the district staff double checked her work. Also, the district issued only generic receipts, which made it difficult to determine if office funds were being properly receipted and deposited. The lack of oversight was further illustrated when the chairman of the board advised that his signature had been forged on checks and timesheets since at least 2008.

"It is very important that government entities practice good internal controls in accounting and bookkeeping," Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. "Internal controls are basically a set of checks and balances that help make sure that public dollars aren't subject to fraud, waste or abuse. As this case clearly illustrates, there can be consequences for governments that don't have good internal controls."

The findings of the report, which was released today, were forwarded to the local district attorney's office. 

Previous story 

A grand jury has indicted a former Morgan County employee on a theft charge.

49-year-old Sharlene Justice is charged with one count of theft over $10,000.

She's accused of taking funds from the Morgan County Soil Conservation District while she served as secretary.

The district attorney asked the TBI to open an investigation in December after an audit turned up payment discrepancies.

Another state audit found more than $44,000 missing as part of the investigation.

Justice was booked in the Morgan County jail on a $6,000 bond.

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