An investigation by the state auditor’s office has identified more than $22,000 worth of improper payments made to a former employee of the Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District.

There are 100 Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Iowa — two in Pottawattamie County and one in every other county. Secretarial duties for 99 of those districts are handled by staff in the Iowa Department of Agriculture. Jasper County’s District is the only one to have had its own secretary.

The auditor’s report covered a three-and-a-half year period, while Jessica Rutter was a full-time assistant in Jasper County’s Soil and Water Conservation District. Auditors say Rutter made more than $19,000 worth of unauthorized payments to herself. The auditor’s report cites Rutter’s interview with a deputy sheriff, indicating Rutter — with her attorney present — admitted she wrote checks to herself that would tend to double her pay.

Auditors concluded Rutter also used the agency’s credit card to make nearly $1300 worth of purchases for herself, for things like a vaccuum and groceries. She also paid a medical bill at a surgical center in Des Moines with the agency’s funds.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman notes this is the fourth time in five years her staff has been asked to conduct a “special investigation” of spending in a Soil and Water Conservation District. Her office signed an agreement on August 30th of this year to do spot checks of the spending at selected Soil and Water Conservation Districts each year.

In 2013, officials in the Iowa Department of Agriculture instructed the districts that employees like Rutter were not authorized to make payments from district bank accounts. Auditors say Rutter was doing just that for three-and-a-half years AFTER that advisory was issued.