Former employee to repay county for misused funds on credit card

BATAVIA, Ohio (April 27, 2018) — In a Clermont County Common Pleas Court appearance on April 25, Mary Ann Belt, former executive assistant in Water Resources Department (WRD),  agreed to repay Clermont County $10,841.65 for gift cards and other items inappropriately charged to a Lowe’s credit card.

Ms. Belt will also plead guilty to a fifth degree felony theft, according to Assistant County Prosecutor Katie Terpstra. The case has been continued until June 4.

Here is a timeline of events:

Ms. Belt was an executive assistant in the water department in 2016-17. Among her responsibilities was paying some of the water department invoices. Previously, she had worked in customer service in the same department since 2012.

 Water Resources Director Lyle Bloom was notified on Oct. 19, 2017, by Duke Energy that several of the water department’s accounts with Duke were past due. The Clermont County Auditor’s Office had also alerted the water department that a number of late payments had been made to Duke.

Mr. Bloom investigated the past-due bills and found that Clermont County had paid approximately $10,000 in late payment charges over 2016-17 to Duke Energy. These particular accounts were the responsibility of Ms. Belt.

Other vendors she was responsible for were also paid late. Duke Energy was the only vendor that charged a late fee.

Ms. Belt had a disciplinary hearing, and was terminated by the county on Nov. 15, 2017, for failing to discharge her responsibilities correctly.

During this time, the Auditor’s Office and the water department worked together to ensure that all accounts that were past due were paid and that vendors would be paid in a timely manner going forward.

After her termination, Ms. Belt’s emails were forwarded to two other executive assistants in the department who assumed her responsibilities.

They noticed that a county credit card account at Lowe’s that was in Ms. Belt’s name had a number of gift cards on it. Further investigation found that she had opened up online a Lowe’s credit card for herself while she was opening cards for three water treatment employees.

A check of previous statements found that a total of $10,841.65 had been charged to Lowe’s that appeared to be for personal use, including gift cards.

In Clermont County, all spending on credit cards must be approved by a supervisor who sees an invoice. It appeared that Ms. Belt falsified invoices, or put in invoices twice.

Shortly after Ms. Belt was terminated, the county asked the Sheriff’s Office to investigate this matter. The results of the investigation were turned over to the Prosecutor’s Office. Ms. Belt was charged with felony theft and was indicted on Feb. 6, 2018.

Prior to the indictment, the office of the State Auditor began its annual audit of Clermont County. At the time, the office of the County Auditor informed the State Auditor that there was a case under investigation that involved possible misuse of county funds. In a separate meeting, the Auditor and Prosecutor’s Office met with the State Auditor’s representatives on this matter.

Mr. Bloom has instituted new practices in his department. All Lowe’s cards have been pulled. Supervisors must now match the hard-copy invoice to the screen invoice before approving.

In addition, most departments and offices in the county now use procurement cards, which have limits on the kinds of transactions, the number of transactions, and the monetary amount of transactions that can be made.

The investigation involved many county offices – Water Resources, the Office of Management and Budget, the County Auditor, the Sheriff’s Office and the Prosecutor’s Office – who worked diligently to address the matter.

“We took prompt action to terminate Ms. Belt’s employment once we discovered the pattern of late payments,” said County Administrator Tom Eigel. “And as soon as we detected other irregularities, we turned that information over to the Sheriff’s Office.  We’re pleased that Ms. Belt has agreed to pay Clermont County restitution. I am confident that the practices instituted will help prevent a similar issue in the future.”