Okla. school district employees accused of stealing thousands

State superintendent of instruction Joy Hofmeister speaks to Fox 25's Keaton Fox in an interview at the State Department of Education. (KOKH/Colleen Wilson)

Two employees of a small Oklahoma school district are accused of using signature stamps to steal thousands of dollars from the district, according to a state audit.

The audit, presented to the Oklahoma State Department of Education Thursday says the Swink Public Schools "treasurer was falsifying school district checks... by altering the actual checks to be payable to herself." Additionally, travel requests by both the treasurer and encumbrance clerk were faked, along with fuel cards that weren't authorized.

When the disparities were discovered, auditors went back several years to re-check years and found four out of five years had issues with altered checks, starting in 2010. A total of 29 checks had been faked, the report said.

Reports that were reviewed the the school board each month went approved and were passed many times because the treasurer was the person presenting the reports. The school board "did not properly observe each encumbrance" and expenditures continued to be reviewed at each meeting with little scrutiny, the report said.

On top of lack of board control, auditors that performed financial audits of the schools finances each year never noted any irregularities in audit findings.

"I have a real problem with audit findings that don't make their way into the audit," Hofmeister said. "This is a cautionary tale for other districts around the state. If an audit looks too good to be true, it might be. It is important for administrators and board members to maintain tight controls and ask questions, especially given the fiscal challenges facing our schools."

The company that did the audits said Thursday to the board of education that sometimes findings do come up that are relayed in the form of a letter later, rather than putting the findings in the actual audit.

Purchases made by the two included alcohol, tobacco and video games, the report said.

The major issue: those signature stamps that are used to sign all district checks. The treasurer had the stamps and allowed her to "circumvent all checks and balances, and perform fraudulent acts."

The total amount of unaccounted for cash: $234,996 over five years, nearly 1/5th of the district's total spending in a year.

Swink's entire expenditure amount for 2013-2014 was $1.4 million, according the state's website.

Swink has 164 students.

In the wake of the problems, the state and state superintendent of instruction Joy Hofmesiter launched a task force for the district.

"Misappropriations of funds is a charge we take very seriously, and we are holding the Swink school district and board members accountable for both the actions of its employees and the auditing firm they hire. We will not sit by and watch tax dollars being stolen from our schoolchildren," Hofmeister said.

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