Benton County Fire Chief Reported Fraud Concerns To Auditor - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Benton County Fire Chief First Reported Fraud Concerns To WA Auditor

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The state auditor's office released a report this week on their investigation into Benton County Fire District 6. The state auditor's office released a report this week on their investigation into Benton County Fire District 6.

BENTON COUNTY, WA - The state auditor's office released a report this week on their investigation into Benton County Fire District 6.

It was discovered a secretary had purchased items with thousands of dollars of taxpayer money that were not for fire district use.

NBC Right Now sifted through the fraud investigation report and spoke with the fire chief.  He says not only did he report the fraud, but also they are doing what they can to recover that taxpayer money.

"The previous way of handling our district books, having them at the clerks house, was not appropriate," explained Chief Rolland Watt.

Watt has held his position since 2009. It was around then the board of directors decided the books for the district needed to be stored at the district office in Paterson. When he got his hands on the books the chief noticed something was wrong. He did exactly what is protocol and reported what he found.

"They brought it to our attention. Their response in the report was that they don't dispute the findings," said Thomas Shapley, a spokesperson for the WA State Auditor's Office.

$19,084.79 of taxpayer money is in question. That includes over $6,500 in purchases not for district use…things like a tablet and other electronic software. The report includes another $11,451.77 in spending was found that had no trail of receipts showing where that money went.

"This is the result of the decisions from one person and not to reflect on the entire district," said Watt.

None of this work from the auditor's office is news to the fire district, the state or even people who live nearby. The fire chief says most people in Paterson knew about the investigation two years ago when it began. Now that the report is out, the next step is recovery.

Watt went on to say "These types of incidents unfortunately happen in many places and we have tightened our ship so it won't happen again here."

The books are now in the office and the job of overseeing expenses has been distributed to allow for checks and balances. The auditor's office has even recommended that the district try to recover over $5,000 in additional funds used for investigation costs. This is pending any charges filed against the former employee by the county.

"The trust that the citizens have given us is well earned and we want them to know that we are pursuing this to make sure a good outcome comes of it," said Watt.

It is important to note with this investigation that all of the department's expense reports from 2008 until May of 2012 were examined by state auditors. The fraud claims involving this one man who no longer works for the district were the only issues they found.