State finds discrepancies; former trustee cites misunderstandings, miscalculations

For the second time in five years, the Indiana State Board of Accounts has found discrepancies in Clay Township financial reports.

In a July 5 report forwarded to Indiana’s attorney general, board investigators concluded that former Clay Township Trustee Rebecca A. “Becky” Smith, 13800 E. Base Road, should reimburse $3,459 to the township.

That total amount was broken down into $650 in salary over-payments, $1,207 in township funds used to pay personal expenses and $1,602 for personal cellphone and internet expenses, according to the report signed by Indiana State Board of Account Field Examiner Eugene West.

Smith, who served as trustee from May 9, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2014, succeeded Christa K. Acton, who resigned after a 2011 audit determined she was overpaid thousands of dollars over a three-year period.

In a written response to the latest report, Smith said she had inadvertently miscalculated an extra month’s salary when she paid herself for the first time after five months of work.

Smith stated she suffers chronic back pain from injuries suffered in an accident that forced her to retire early as the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department’s first female sergeant in early 2005.

The pain “plays a role in short term memory and concentration issues,” Smith said. “This was simply an error on my part and was definitely not intentional nor an elaborate act to cover up.”

Smith used the township’s debit bank account to pay $430 in personal expenses Nov. 26, 2012, according to the State Board of Accounts. Two similar expenditures — each for $373 — were made Nov. 25, 2013, and Nov. 24, 2014, the report states.

There is no description in the ledgers indicating how those monies were spent, West also wrote.

Smith told investigators she had to use her own cellphone, computer and internet service to take care of township business upon taking office because those services were not yet available when Acton resigned in May 2012.

On Nov. 1, 2014, Smith reimbursed herself $2,640 for two years of cellphone and internet expenses with township funds, with no documentation or township authorization to support the amount, the report states.

Although the number of the township-owned cellphone was publicized as the trustee’s contact number, evidence indicates that use of the internet and cellphone was not restricted to township business, investigators said in the report.

Based on their own evidence, the Indiana State Board of Accounts determined Smith was only entitled to $1,034 in reimbursement, and asked her to pay back $1,602.

Smith said she had filed monthly phone bills to support her claims. The former trustee also maintains she approached the Clay Township Advisory Board in the fall of 2014 and asked if they would consider reimbursing her $30 a month for her cellphone expenses.

In response, board members advised her to reimburse herself for a portion of both the cellphone and internet bills, Smith stated. The total amount was calculated at $45 monthly from June 2012 to December 2014, she said.

Smith also claims the cellphone was her own and reimbursements never exceeded 50 percent of the costs.

Although Smith said the advisory board’s consent was reflected in the minutes, she was told by state investigators last year there was no such supporting documentation.

“How am I being held responsible for missing documentation that was left in the care and control of another trustee?” Smith asked in her statement to the state investigators.

John A. McDonald succeeded Smith on Jan. 1, 2015. His term is scheduled to expire at the end of next year.

In addition to the allegations about Smith’s payments, the state board of accounts stated there was no required oversight of township financial activity on an ongoing basis by another individual, which allowed the irregularities to go unnoticed for a period of time.

Smith described that claim as “preposterous.”

What's next?

The special investigation report of Clay Township, filed July 5, was forwarded to the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, according to a statement issued Feb. 1 by State Board of Accounts examiner Paul D. Joyce.

After a similar report in 2011 turned up irregularities under former Clay Township Trustee Christa Acton, Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash asked the Indiana State Police to proceed with a criminal investigation.

Acton resigned in May 2012 and pleaded guilty to five felonies including two counts of conflict of interest and one count each of welfare fraud, theft and official misconduct. She was sentenced to a year in the Bartholomew County Jail and ordered to pay $19,610 in restitution to the township.

Acton’s deputy, Laurie L. Baker, was ordered to serve six months in the county jail followed by two years of home detention and five years of probation. She was ordered to make $6,000 in restitution to the township and pay court, probation and community service fees.

The township subsequently enacted several measures to prevent future financial issues, board members said in 2014. Those included requiring two signatures authorizing all township checks, giving more than a single person access to oversee the accounts, creating tighter rules on township assistance and an annual assistance limit of $500.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.