LITTLE ROCK — State auditors told a legislative panel Friday they discovered more than $162,000 missing from Lafayette County bank accounts, a critical report that county officials disputed and one lawmaker suggested could be racially motivated.
Auditors reported that a comparison of cash receipts to cash bank deposits revealed that $162,275 was not deposited in the tax collection bank accounts during the period from January 1, 2011, through Sept. 20, 2012. Auditors found cash shortages of $92,391 in current and delinquent tax accounts in 2011 and $69884 in those accounts through Sept. 20, 2012.
Among the audit findings, the report said the county treasurer-collector, Keesha Rose, substituted checks for cash, deposited checks in the delinquent tax account to hide that cash was not deposited, altered deposits and deposit slips to remove cash, did not document tax payments from utility companies in the current tax account and removed utility companies from the delinquent tax list before the list was sent for publication in the area newspaper.
Auditors said they also found funds unaccounted for in the county sheriff’s office, including bond and fine payments that exceeded bank deposits by $905, as well as overpayments to vendors and disbursement’s to elected officials, including the sheriff, and others with questionable or missing documentation.
Auditors said the shortages were not detected because the country treasurer and collector is the same person, and because delinquent tax settlements to taxing units were made using other funds under the treasurer’s control.
Rose "did not adhere to state laws, county policies or proper accounting procedures relating to the proper depositing of receipts," the report said, which it said amounted to "a significant control deficiency."
Auditors recommended that the treasurer-collector implement procedures that comply.
Rose maintained she ran the office as it had been run for more than 14 years. She served as deputy in the office until being elected county treasurer-collector in 2010. Her husband, Victor Rose, was elected county sheriff in 2008.
If money was missing, she told the committee, then checks written by her office to the county clerk would have bounced because of insufficient funds.
"If $162,000 was gone, I couldn’t write a check to this woman," she said, pointing to County Clerk Regenia Morton, who was sitting next to her.
Kim Williams, investigative manager for the Division of Legislative Audit, said that was not necessarily true because the account also contains other sources of money. Williams said state auditors had never found deficiencies like those in the report until May 2011.
"In the past we haven’t had a problem in the collector’s office," Williams said.
Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, suggested the audit targeted the couple because they are black.
"It’s all focused primarily upon two people with innuendo and suggestions about incompetence and theft," Walker said.
Rep. Justin Harris, R-West Fork, objected to Walker’s suggestion of impropriety by state auditors.
"They’re doing their job and your accusing them of something that’s not true," he said.
The panel’s co-chairman, Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, urged Walker to ask questions about the audit and not make unsubstantiated accusations. He added that it is the committee’s responsibility to ask questions when auditors find possible problems.
"You may do that with anybody, but you don’t upon the advent of a person just taking an office within two years who is African-American in a state where you have only had one black sheriff in history, and you don’t do it in a community which is small and poor, where the patterns have been there all the time and this audit department has been looking all this time," Walker said.
Rep. Prissy Hickerson, R-Texarkana, said there were a number of questions in the audit and that it has been referred to law enforcement authorities for investigation.
"This will be thoroughly investigated," she said. "I have every faith that law enforcement will make a decision on this one way or another."
Carlton Jones, prosecutor for the 8th Judicial District South, which includes Miller and Lafayette counties, declined comment Friday, other than to say Ian Vickery of El Dorado has been appointed special prosecutor in the case and that state police are investigating.
"I am trying to stay out of this," Jones said.
Roger Norman, director of the Division of Legislative Audit, declined to respond to Walker’s suggestion that race was a factor in the audit.
"I think the audit speaks for itself," Norman told reporters after the meeting.
Sheriff Rose said state auditors never offered to discuss the audit results with his wife or with him after it was completed. Camp told lawmakers Friday the Roses did not show up for an exit interview.
"That auditor was doing nothing but lying and manipulating truth," the sheriff told reporters after the meeting.