By John Hummer –Exponent staff writer
The Leoni Township board voted unanimously at the September board meeting to have a special audit done dating back to 2012 in concurrence with its regular annual audit coming up, the special audit is now off, at least for the time being.
The special audit was brought up at the behest of outgoing township supervisor Todd Brittain, who stated at the board meeting, “There’s been a lot of rumors out there that have made accusations – let’s put them to an end,” Brittain said. That was the only statement he made at the meeting. The motion called for an audit on the general check ledger back to 2012 along with bank copies of the signed checks dispersed.
Trustee Bob Sutherby supported the motion of an additional audit.
“Auditing is a good thing, especially with an old board going out and a new board coming in,” he said. “I think it would be helpful so that the new board can start with all the updated information – where we’ve been and where we’re going. If there’s anything that needs to be fixed, it can be addressed so that the new board is not starting and trying to fix something after the fact. In fairness to the new board, an accounting of our general ledger to explain where they’ve been would be very helpful for them going forward.”
However, in a Sept. 16 letter to the attention of Brittain from township attorney Eric White, White states, “Making such an allegation, much less in an open meeting is very serious and requires an initial investigation be conducted to determine whether a fraud or forensic audit should be sought. While the MLive article (of Sept. 15, 2016) indicates that the Board voted to have Dove & Hickey conduct such an audit, that would not be proper as that is the firm that conducts the township’s yearly audit.”
White’s letter continues, “It is my understanding that your allegations primarily relate to some checks from 2012 that were signed by only one department. It is my further understanding that this issue was already addressed by Dove & Hickey during the regular audit from that year. Ms. Sponsler (Nanette Sponsler of Dove & Hickey) indicated that she was provided an explanation for the check in question from 2012 and no further issues such as this have occurred since. It is important to note that Dove & Hickey did not have any concerns as to fraud as to the checks from 2012 and did not seek any type of fraud or forensic audit. The concern of myself and Dove & Hickey is your lack of any details or specificity regarding “rumors” or “accusations”. I am also concerned that the issues you raise are four years old and were previously addressed in the yearly audit process.”
Brittain said he spoke with Dove & Hickey last Thursday who advised him to speak with the township attorney.
“I spoke with the attorney. He wanted me to provide information to him and written statements showing proof and credibility – people, numbers, contact information – and verify all the information I have,” said Brittain.
All of the information Brittain stated he must get is called for in White’s letter.
“It would be nearly impossible (and pointless) for a fraud/forensic audit without specifics upon which to investigate,” the letter states.
“I just want to get all the facts straight so when I turn over the information to our attorney, if he has any questions, it should be straight forward – everything.
“When I spoke with the auditors, they led me to believe that this was going to take quite a while to go through, based on the information we had voted on at the board meeting,” Brittain said. “It could take quite a while to go through all the checks going back, and the check ledger, and looking at the signed checks.”
Brittain’s main questions stem from a series of checks written and signed by the township during the period of January to July 2012 that were co-signed by then-deputy clerk Lori Stack and current township clerk Michele Manke. Stack is now the township treasurer.
Brittain said, by law, one person from the clerk’s department – whether it’s the clerk or deputy clerk and one person from the treasurer’s department – whether it’s the treasurer or deputy treasurer – must sign each check.
“Those are the rules,” he said. “And if you’re not abiding by the rules, then why have laws? – is the way I look at it. There’s obviously ones in there that are not signed according to state laws and guidelines.”
As to the thought of the additional audit that was set to take place before the township attorney’s letter surfaced, township treasurer Lori Stack, though she voted in favor of the audit, said, “It’s not warranted by any means.
“Back in 2012, the accountant said they wanted to change some of the internal controls. She said, ‘I want two people from separate departments signing checks’. No write up. Nothing fraudulent. Nothing illegal. Just a tighter internal control. That’s what [Brittain] is referring to. It’s just ridiculous. And why, if there was a problem in 2012 – and he signed off from that year’s audit – he sat in that meeting – would he now bring it up? It’s just unfounded. There’s just nothing there. I guess it’ll just have to play out. He’s just trying to discredit other people, which is highly shameful. It’s extremely frustrating. It’s an election year that brings out the best in people.”
Stack said township checks, though signed by her office and the clerk’s office, are issued by the township accountant, Robin Holda.
“I voted to go ahead with the audit, not knowing the laws and the rules,” said township clerk Michele Manke. “You have to have something specific for them to conduct a forensic audit – a fraud audit. I was perfectly fine with going back and looking at stuff, because I have nothing to hide.”
Manke said the double-signing of checks by the clerk’s office in 2012 was addressed in the audit that year.
“She talked about it; how we shouldn’t do it anymore. We should wait for someone from the other department. That’s what we’ve done ever since. It’s not an issue. She found nothing wrong – it’s just that he (Brittain) doesn’t want me to get re-elected. What he presented to the auditor is nothing to warrant this fraud audit.”
Manke cited one instance from April of this year when two people from the treasurer’s office signed the same check.
“It was an accident,” she said. “We’ve talked to the auditor about it.”
In the meantime, Brittain will be searching for any truths to any rumors of wrongdoings with the township’s books over the years.
“I’ve heard rumors that hundreds of thousands of dollars have disappeared through the township coffers over the years,” he said. “Whether it’s true or not, I think this is going to be a perfect way to look at it – look at the checks, verify all the checks. I was going through some of the checks that were printed off and given to me through one of the workers that was in the treasurer’s department back at the time and there were numbers missing out of there. What has accounted for the missing checks? I don’t know if there are missing checks; I’m just going by the information that was provided. I think this will really put everything to rest. Anything that was not legal I think needs to be brought out in the open. I’m just trying to bring everything to light and put all the rumors – whether they’re true or not true – to rest.”
Brittain went as far as to include himself as one of the accused.
“I’ve heard so many rumors about supposedly unethical things that have gone on here,” he said. “There were people that accused one of our board members and myself of unethical things and doing things that are abusing our power. If that’s the case I want it to be known. I have nothing to hide.”