Of more than $1 million in uncollected misused, misappropriated or stolen public funds reported for the fiscal year ending June 2018, only $47,000 of it is owed to three Southeast Tennessee counties or government entities, according to two new Tennessee Comptroller's Office reports released this week.
The 2018 Report of Cash Shortages in Tennessee's 95 county governments updates the amounts of cash shortages and thefts as of June 30, 2018, detailing money that went missing during the 2018 fiscal year, as well as previous fiscal years.
Combined with uncollected funds among municipalities and other governmental entities from fiscal year ending 2017 and prior years, public funds still not recovered total more than $3.5 million statewide, the reports show.
Tennessee's 95 counties began fiscal year 2018 with $972,608 in cash shortages that had not been recovered, and during the fiscal year $276,522 worth of new shortages were found, official said.
Among those owed, the Bradley County Mayor's Office still has an uncollected balance of $15,818, stemming from the alleged theft of funds through suspicious payments for contracted services; the Orena Humphreys Public Library is still owed a small amount of funds reported stolen in Marion County; and the Coffee County and Manchester governments are owed $31,097 stemming from internal or criminal investigations, according to the state's fiscal year 2018 report issued this week on shortages, thefts and judicial actions in county offices and departments.
On the other side of the ledger, the Sequatchie County court clerk's office was paid back $2,500 in stolen funds through court-ordered restitution, and the Marion County Clerk's Office was paid back $7,268 in funds mistakenly paid through a misinterpretation of salary payment statutes.
The money missing in Bradley County remains uncollected although County Mayor D. Gary Davis addressed the matter last year when the missing money appeared on last year's list. Davis said last November that the former employee charged in that investigation was prosecuted for the theft of $3,200 but not for alleged thefts discovered and reported a couple of years later. The county took "all the necessary and legally required steps regarding this alleged theft," Davis said in 2018.
The comptroller's report didn't mention the status of the shortage of at least $3,680 from Whitwell's Orena Humphreys Public Library that led to an indictment, but court officials in Marion County said the court ordered restitution in the case totalling $1,500, most of which has now been repaid under terms of a judicial diversion. A small balance and court costs remain unpaid, court officials said.
In Coffee County, a shortage of at least $31,097 from the Manchester-Coffee County Convention Center remains uncollected after the former general manager was found guilty of theft and misconduct in an investigation into thefts occurring in 2014 and 2015, according to state officials. As of the close of fiscal year 2018, the center had received no restitution, according to the report.
The second report released this week — the 2017 Municipalities and Other Organizations Report — details fiscal year ending June 2017 cash shortages and other thefts for municipalities, internal school funds, utility districts, housing authorities and other entities totaling almost $2.5 million. The report also includes missing funds from prior years.
Among Southeast Tennessee entities in the 2017 report, $210,774 is still owed to the Decherd Water and Sewer Department in unresolved theft and civil cases, stemming from a state probe that concluded in 2017 with the arrests of a former employee and a local businessman.
In Marion County, at least $18,855 in restitution has been paid in connection with $35,332 in misappropriated funds stemming from a 2009-2010 theft case at Whitwell High School by a former employee, and Sequatchie County Middle School also is still owed $18,322 stemming from a 2016 criminal investigation that led to charges against a former employee in that county.
Also in the 2017 report, the South Pittsburg Housing Authority and South Pittsburg Elderly Housing Authority received some restitution in cases involving as much as $261,551 in misappropriated funds in a 2015 investigation that led to arrests in July and December that year. The two authorities were repaid $12,405 but the balance remains.
"Our office takes its responsibility to uncover fraud, waste, and abuse seriously," Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said in a statement. "Tennesseans expect their leaders and public officials to take steps to protect public money and property."
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.