A special investigation by the State Auditor’s Office finds the former secretary for the Mahaska County Soil and Water Conservation District took hundreds of thousands of dollars of district money for her own use. Deputy State Auditor, Tami Kusian, says the improper activity was clearly linked to the former secretary Jessica Strasser.
“Our special investigation identified over $279,000 of improper disbursements and improper cash withdrawals from the district’s account. There were actually over $240,000 of cash withdrawals,” Kusian says. Strasser resigned on August 9th of 2013, Kusian says Strasser has admitted to taking the money.
Most of the money for the district comes from the state Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The theft was most often simply a matter of making a trip to the bank. “We were able to observe several copies of deposit slips where she just went to the bank and withdrew cash from the account,” Kusian says. “We were also able to verify that in her own personal account there were over 240-thousand dollars of cash deposits during this time period.”
In other cases, Kusian says Strasser took money from the conservation activities carried out in the district. “Things like sales programs that they had, like seed and trees programs and there were some of proceeds from those programs that were not deposited to the district,” Kusian explains.
Kusian says the soil and water conservation districts often have a very small staff, and in this case that led to a lack of oversight.
“The secretaries for the most part perform most of the financial duties. And that is one of the things we have recommended in our report, is that they look at ways to segregate the duties. They make sure that the bank statements are going to somebody independent of the financial duties, and being reviewed,” Kusian says. “This would have been something that if somebody else had been reviewing those banks statements they would have seen all those withdrawals and hopefully questioned those.”
Copies of the report have been filed with the Mahaska County Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Division of Criminal Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General.
Investigation report: Mahaska County SWCD investigation PDF