Lessons From the Fire District Fraud - The Missourian: Opinion

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Lessons From the Fire District Fraud

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Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 5:00 pm

To The Editor:

Lots of discussion has taken place since we first found out that almost $600,000 in fraud has taken place in the St. Clair Fire District.

We know that Eric Hinson has been taking your tax dollars since 2006 and will probably serve a maximum of 41 months in prison. He is absolutely the main culprit and should be dealt with much more harshly than 41 months in prison. But he’s not the only one.

A Missourian quote by Kirby Banderman, longtime board president, stated “It’s regrettable that it happened, but everyone has to be accountable for their actions. And whatever those consequences are, that’s what it is, I really don’t know what else to say.”

Well, we taxpayers deserve a little more than that and would like answers to some questions we have. One of the most important functions of board oversight is maintaining the financial integrity of the entity. Any beginner board training would have told you that. How could you, as board president for so many years, never once in at least six years ask to look at the paid bills? Never once look at the credit card statements showing charges for vacations or other obvious personal charges? How could you not notice that a personal vehicle was charged to the district? There couldn’t have been more than 50 paid bills a month and you never thought that as the board president you might want to look at them? What exactly did you do at your board meetings for so many years if you never paid attention to how any of the money was being spent?

Eric Hinson stole $100,000 a year out of a $1,700,000 budget (2009) and you or nobody else noticed! As board president, you also need to be held accountable and should step off the board, along with any other board members during this time frame. As a result of your incompetence, you’ve now created a total lack of trust in our fire department’s handling of taxpayer money.

But there’s also been no mention of someone else who should be accountable. Why aren’t we holding our audit firm, “Ross, Spinner, and Kummer, PC” accountable? It should have been looking at the approval process and backup for all fixed asset purchases (which included a personal vehicle) and at a very minimum made the board aware that significant internal control deficiencies were present. This was a material fraud based on the size of the budget and they just simply didn’t do their job either.

Just so the taxpayers know, our board failed to implement basic internal control policies in our fire district, policies that could have easily prevented or caught this fraud much earlier.

Finally, there are many entities in our community where the same type of fraud has probably happened or could happen. Too many times, we elect honest, well-meaning people who don’t have a clue what their fiduciary responsibilities are to the community. The lesson here is to elect qualified board candidates and hold them accountable. I hope we do this during the next fire board election.

Any board member during this period of fraud should resign from the board immediately or at the very least not run for re-election. They have done enough damage to our community and it will take a long time before we, the taxpayers, trust our fire department with any more of our money.

/opinion

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