Just days after a county highway employee was terminated for allegedly making thousands of dollars of personal purchases on county credit cards, Franklin County officials began the process of reviewing how to prevent it in the future.
Presiding Commissioner John Griesheimer says he thought the county had enough safeguards in place.
“I guess if an employee wants to steal from you, they are going to find one way or another to do it,” Griesheimer said. “You may get away with it for years and get more and more brazen, but someday someone is going to find out. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night putting my family in that situation. Now, he’s going to have to feel the full weight of the law.”
The case against the terminated employee alleges he embedded personal purchases into ongoing highway projects and bought the items with a county credit card usually at Lowe’s.
Many home improvement items and tools were found at the employee’s home by the highway patrol last week.
All purchases in the county go through a fairly rigourous check and balance system at multiple levels, but not credit card purchases.
Griesheimer explained the purchases must first be approved by a supervisor or department head. The purchase order is then sent to the county auditor and eventually the county commission.
But, this process only takes place for planned purchases, which is why the theft went on for years and thousands of dollars were stolen, he said.
“The commission doesn’t see individual credit card statements,” Griesheimer said. “Over the past several years we have racheted down the number of credit cards and who has them.”
Griesheimer added over the next couple of weeks the commission, department heads and other elected officials will be meeting to further review the current credit card policies.
“We’ve tried to make it harder for something like this to happen,” Griesheimer said. “I really don’t know how much more we can do without handcuffing our employees. They have to be able to do their jobs and have flexibility.”
According to Griesheimer, the ongoing highway patrol investigation is also looking into the terminated employee’s use of a county gas card and whether it too was used for personal gain.
He added the county has restricted the number of employees who have gas cards that are supposed to be used for fuel in county vehicles or equipment.
“Each employee has their own individual ID number you have to enter,” Griesheimer said. “Then you also have to record the starting mileage each time you fill up.”
Griesheimer added he only uses a county vehicle for business a couple of times a month, but obviously there are some employees who use one on a daily basis.”
In late 2011 an employee from the county recorder of deeds office pleaded guilty to a felony embezzling charge and was ordered to pay restitution to the county of more than $72,000 and was given a five-year suspended sentence and ordered to serve 120 days of “shock time” in jail.
The employee was “directly responsible” for depositing the daily transactions and balancing the books in the recorder’s office and would use one month’s deposits to balance the previous month’s deficit.
In the late 1980s employees of the highway department were also caught in a stealing ring.
Griesheimer said the employees were purchasing tires with county funds and then reselling the items to individuals and pocketing the money.