Forensic audit to be conducted following Gaston OSA report

Published 5:42 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

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GASTON – A matter involving unauthorized loans to Gaston town employees by a former clerk has been turned over to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, police Chief C.L. Dixon confirmed on Tuesday.

He said the SBI will conduct a forensic audit of the matter as directed by the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor (OSA).

Findings in the state audit released last week included the discovery that the clerk abused her position by authorizing loans to town employees and herself totaling $39,072.

The clerk in question is no longer employed by the town.

Other findings in the audit include:

The clerk obtained $4,410 in unallowed vacation pay;

The clerk commingled personal and town funds;

A town commissioner purchased used town equipment for approximately $2,700 below fair market value; and

Town officials failed to safeguard assets.

Gaston Town Attorney Geoffrey Davis said in an August 11 letter to the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor that the town does not dispute any of the findings.

“In fact, the town hopes that the results of this audit will serve as an opportunity to correct the issues you have discovered through the process and to establish policies and procedures to prevent these situations in the future,” the letter from Davis, included in the state document, says. “Moreover, the town will cooperate fully with any subsequent investigations as well as any recommendations made by the Local Government Commission in response to your report.”

The Gaston town board met August 9 and discussed the allegations in closed session, Davis said. The board authorized Davis to draft the response and also took the first steps to address the concerns in the draft report which was sent to the town on July 28.

Davis said he spoke with the assistant clerk as well as members of the board who were present in 2017 when several of the issues first came to their attention.

Davis said as far as the town can tell, the clerk knew or should have known at the time that the above actions were improper and in violation of established law, policies and procedures.

“While she bears responsibility for these actions, they would have been caught much earlier had the town board exercised stricter oversight of her actions and in some cases might not have ever taken place,” his letter stated.

The town clerk is no longer employed and a new clerk was sworn in the evening the matter discussed in closed session. After the closed session, Davis said the town passed a motion to prohibit the clerk from signing a check to herself, even if that check is co-signed by another authorized person.

“Frankly, I was surprised that this policy did not already exist in Gaston,” he stated.

The board that evening also discussed at length their options for exercising better oversight over expenditures “and welcome any help or advice your [OSA] office can provide as we continue to work through this process.”

With respect to the clerk, Davis said, “I believe that we must make an effort to recover these funds but I am waiting until this report is made public before I take action.”

(Lance Martin is the Editor and Publisher of Permission was obtained to publish this story.)