Kane County Treasurer resigns amid investigation of misuse of public funds

Stock image, St. George News

CEDAR CITY — The Office of the Utah State Auditor recently released the findings of a preliminary investigation into allegations against Kane County Treasurer Georgia Baca regarding misuse of public funds. On Tuesday, Kane County Commission chairman Dirk Clayson told St. George News they were cooperating with an investigation of the matter and moving forward with finding a replacement for Baca, who resigned from her position.

To compile the report, the Utah State Auditor’s office examined transactions between Jan. 1, 2013, and Jan. 1, 2016, and found transfers and payments which they deemed “improper and illegal” totaling over $36,000 and a discrepancy of over $56,000 in cash/check deposits which hasn’t been accounted for. However, the report stated that this time frame — and the areas detailed by the report — may not have been the only instances of financial irregularities.

“We evaluated certain risks and focused audit resources in those areas,” the report signed by audit director Van Christensen stated. “Therefore, this preliminary report should not be interpreted to mean that all potential misuse of funds has been identified.”

Clayson said he initiated the investigation with the Utah State Auditor after hearing of a suspicious transaction approximately a month and a half ago. He said there hadn’t been any previous activity by Baca, who had held the treasurer’s position since 2006, which had raised concerns.

“When I saw that one, we looked into it and found another 10 or 12 similar,” Clayson said, “and we knew that there would need to be some likelihood of criminal investigation as well, so we asked the Attorney General’s office and the State Auditor to help us determine how to move forward.”

The report compiled by the State Auditor reviewed three areas where they believed Baca had the opportunity to misappropriate funds: transfers out of three separate Kane County bank accounts, the processing of certain checks and a comparison of cash receipts to actual bank deposits.

Of the transfers from county bank accounts, the report found 46 transfers to Baca’s personal accounts totaling $34,600, which were identified as “improper and illegal transfers.”

“The signature cards on the County accounts indicate the Treasurer is the only person authorized to make these transfers,” the report stated.

Another area of concern was an online payment of $1,612.67 from a County bank account for Baca’s personal cell phone bill, even though she also received a monthly stipend of $110 for cell phone services.

However, the largest area of concern financially speaking was missing cash from deposits. After comparing deposits on the property tax account subledger and the county’s main operating account ledger to actual bank deposits, the Auditor’s office found a discrepancy of $56,182 which has yet to be accounted for.

While the report states that it could’ve been simply improper oversight of county funds by Baca, it said there was a “high likelihood” that the discrepancy represented a misappropriation of funds. The report stated:

Not only did she have access to the cash, but she had the ability to conceal the misappropriations … In addition, we found that the Treasurer had completed a detailed bank reconciliation which included checkmarks on bank statements and deposit detail what would have identified the discrepancies we noted. If the Treasurer had not misappropriated the funds, she would have followed up with others to resolve these discrepancies.

Baca resigned her position on March 14, the same day the report was released, but Clayson said she already knew the investigation was taking place.

“I met with her the first working day after we found out about the situation,” Clayson said. “She, of course, knew right away that it was something we were investigating. Basically, I met with her to inform her that we were doing some investigation and that we’ve asked for the State Auditor and the State Attorney General’s office to assist us with the matter.”

Dan Burton with the Utah Attorney General’s office said they do not give comment on ongoing or potential investigations; however Clayson said he believed they have been collecting data.

“I believe they are moving forward,” Clayson said, “and I can just say that whatever we have available, we have been willing to cooperate with them.”

The report detailed specific methods Baca may have used to conceal the misappropriation and revealed that two of the avenues — property tax account adjustments and post voided transactions to tax accounts — were handled solely by the treasurer’s office and not subject to any secondary review. This oversight is an area Clayson said needed to be addressed moving forward.

“From our standpoint, we’re trying to look at how we could prevent things like this in a similar situation,” he said.

Clayson added that they are also moving forward with going through the process of putting in a midterm replacement for the treasurer’s position.

St. George News was unable to reach Baca for comment.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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