Embezzlement investigation ongoing

investigation
investigation

An investigation into the embezzlement of $118,000 in cash deposits from City Hall is still under way this week, Mayor Colleen Hilton said Tuesday.

An unnamed city employee, who was fired shortly after the embezzlement was discovered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is suspected of committing the crime, which was made public last week in a statement from Hilton,

Hilton said  that she’s received many comments from residents commending the city for being up front about the crime.

“We shared what we could,” she said. “We’d like to share more, but we’re just not able to at this time.”

The embezzlement is suspected to have taken place during a nine-month window, from July 2015 to April 2016. The FBI, along with a Westbrook police officer working with the bureau, had been alerted to suspicious transactions involving the private bank accounts of the former Westbrook employee.

Signed into law following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Patriot Act requires much stricter transaction reporting by financial institutions, which is monitored by the FBI.

Hilton said last week that because the investigation is still ongoing, and charges have not yet been filed against the former employee, “the city is not at liberty at this time to identify the individual or to divulge the specifics of this matter.”

In response to the embezzlement charges, Hilton said the city has already changed some policies, which include revising the city’s reconciliation and bank deposit procedures and further separating responsibilities among multiple employees.

She said, unfortunately, “there are some clever people out there.”

According to City Administrator Jerre Bryant, the employee is accused of skimming the cash from a variety of cash payments made to the city, which are for anything from a dog license to excise tax on a new car. He said the employee would physically change the cash deposit receipts and reports outside the city’s computer system, meaning the electronic figures were still correct and balanced.

Following the FBI inquiry, he said, City Finance Director Alicia Gardiner was able to compare the cash receipts with the figures on the system, and was able to calculate the $118,000 figure that was stolen.

Bryant said that as part of the investigation, the city has given the FBI the former employee’s computer and copies of hundreds of documents.

Some residents, however, believe someone should be held accountable for the missing funds – not just the former employee. Deb Shangraw, a Westbrook business owner who closely follows city finances, said there have been issues brought forward in the city audit dating back to 2008.

“This was preventable and never should have happened,” she said in an email Tuesday.

The audit for this fiscal year has not yet been done. Shangraw believes the city should conduct its own audit of all departments that accept cash and any department that receives money from the city and has its own bank statements.

“How are we to know and feel comfortable that this didn’t happen in any other department?” she said.

Hilton said in her statement last week that there has been “no impact on the validity of any individual customer transactions or tax payments.

“We are taking hard looks at everything, and we’ll continue to do so,” Hilton said.

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