Audit of Liberty Township Orders Employees to Repay Over $107,000
Columbus – Auditor of State Keith Faber today released the 2017 audit of Liberty Township (Guernsey County), which issued a $100,713 finding for recovery against former fiscal officer, Kathy Leach and a $6,728 finding for recovery against township employee, Thomas Braniger.
“This fiscal officer regularly used her position to help herself to public dollars,” Auditor Faber said. “Now that we have uncovered this egregious abuse and justice has been secured, I recommend the township deter further abuse by enhancing their internal controls.”
Auditors examined the townships financial records from September 1, 2011 through March 31, 2016. During that period, Leach was responsible for preparing disbursements and maintaining support for expenditures.
During the period, Leach received 11 health insurance reimbursements totaling $7,438. She only had supporting documentation for one of the 11 reimbursements. This documentation indicated that Leach’s health insurance providers were Medical Mutual and Central Reserve Insurance. However, auditors examined her personal bank account and could not identify any payments made to either of these companies. Both companies confirmed Leach did not have insurance coverage through them during the period she received health insurance reimbursements from the township.
The audit identified 19 checks totaling $86,913 to Leach’s husband and her business, Old 21 Roadside Storage, which lacked supporting documentation. Audit investigators determined the payments were unauthorized and not for township operations. Each month at township meetings, Leach prepared lists of checks she wrote and provided them to trustees. She would detail what checks were to be paid, and included the check number, vendor name, amount, and the township fund that the payment was drawn. This list prepared during the period examined did not include checks written to herself or Old 21 Roadside Storage.
Also during the period, auditors found Leach received payments totaling $4,607 for reimbursements that did not have supporting documentation. Notes made on the checks identify the payments as being for reimbursements for a printer, office supplies, repairs, filing cabinet, postage, first aid kits, mileage, cassette tapes, batteries, and conference expenses. Auditors found that they township did not have a printer until after the new fiscal officer took over in April 2016. Also, Leach received a reimbursement for conference expenses with $23 for food purchases for another person not related to the township.
Leach charged $1,732 for personal or non-township related transactions on the township’s Staples credit card, for items including gift cards, holiday cards, candy, gift bags, and numerous ink cartridges.
Auditor Faber issued a finding for recovery for public property converted or misappropriated in the amount of $100,713 against Leach and her bonding company; $39,781 in favor of the general fund, $8,815 in favor of the motor vehicle fund, $24,517 in favor of the gas fund, $9,667 in favor of the cemetery fund and $17,993 in favor of the road and bridge fund.
On June 5, 2019, the township received $85,000 from Leach’s bonding company. The Auditor’s office considers this a partial repayment.
On April 17, 2019, Leach entered a plea of no contest to one count of Theft in Office, a felony of the third degree. On October 31, 2019, at sentencing for the conviction, Judge Linton D. Lewis entered an Order of Restitution for $14,715 against Leach, in favor of the township.
Under Ohio law, any public official who authorizes an illegal expenditure is strictly liable for the expenditure. The township trustees, Doug Matthews, Robert Kennedy, Randall Douglas, and Gilbert Durben, who each authorized payments made to Leach’s husband and her business, totaling $86,913 are severally and jointly liable for the expenditures. At times, the trustees signed blank checks that did not include the vendor name, amount and support for the expenses. Leach then used the signed blank checks to misappropriate the township funds.
Auditors also found another issue during the period examined involving township employee, Thomas Braniger, who received 13 health insurance reimbursements totaling $6,230. Braniger provided documents indicating he had health insurance coverage during the period through Health Insurance Innovations. Braniger paid $2,535 in health insurance during the period, but was overpaid for his reimbursement by $3,695.
Additionally, Braniger received $2,991 for a leave balance payout upon separation of employment from the township. However, there was no documentation supporting that township trustees approved the leave payment, or that there was available leave balance at the time the township made the payout. Kathy Leach processed the payment.
Braniger also received $42 in payments for miscellaneous reimbursements. Notes made on the checks specified the payments were reimbursements for gasoline and supplies.
Auditor Faber also issued a finding for recovery against Braniger for $6,728.
The township fiscal officer, Kathy Leach, authorized payments made to Braniger. Accordingly, Leach and her bonding company are jointly and severally liable for the finding for recovery against Braniger.
A full copy of this report is available online.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio is responsible for auditing more than 6,000 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Keith Faber, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies, and promotes transparency in government.