Ousted Plymouth Treasurer Ron Edwards and Plante Moran auditor Joe Heffernan (foreground) listen as township board members review DOJ audit charges. Nov. 15, 2016.
Nov. 25, 2016 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
“$140,000 in state forfeiture funds-missing and unaccounted for.”
…Tom Tiderington, Plymouth Township Police Chief.
Missing funds, incomplete reports, inaccurate and faulty records and a failure of generally accepted accounting practices have prompted both the state and federal government to take punitive and costly action against Plymouth Township.
State treasury officials are still waiting for the 2015 Plymouth Township General Audit due last June and have withheld the August and October payments to the township totaling $24,285 due to the failure of the municipality to submit the required report.
Officials from the federal Drug Forfeiture Funding program recently informed Police Chief Tom Tiderington that the office had “no choice but to extinguish” Plymouth Township from that program due to the failure of the municipality to provide sufficient records and financial documents from the office of the clerk and treasurer. That action could cost the township nearly $1 million in pending and future funding, according to township auditors.
Those federal funds were the subject of an August 2015 12-day audit by the Department of Justice which determined multiple failures and non-compliance by 20-year Treasurer Ron Edwards, who was recently ousted by voters. The auditors required Edwards to supply specific information regarding the use of $1.9 million in revenue received by the township police department between Jan, 1, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2014.
Multiple problems were cited by the federal auditors including the failure of funding to be deposited in correct accounts and unreconciled bank statements. According to Tiderington, the auditors found that the federal funds were being used to pay for township expenses not related to law enforcement activities, including the Fourth of July picnic in the township.
Edwards and former Supervisor Shannon Price, also recently defeated for re-election, signed a settlement agreement with federal authorities agreeing to correct multiple accounting and use errors. Those steps and the necessary accounting for the drug forfeiture funds have not been completed or submitted, according to a spokesman from the federal department.
The multiple problems, including the missing funds, came to light last week when auditors from Plante Moran were invited to the board of trustees meeting by Price to address the status of both the Department of Justice (DOJ) and state general audit. Plante Moran auditor Joe Heffernan told the board members he suspected the federal authorities might have already stopped revenue sharing with the township because of six unresolved DOJ items totaling $83,397.67.
In response to Heffernan’s announcement, members of the township board unanimously approved a resolution to transfer $83,397.67, an amount that Edwards claimed was sitting in the General Fund, to the drug forfeiture fund.
The trustees refused, however, to send a letter prepared by defeated Township Clerk Nancy Conzelman to the DOJ alleging the township had corrected the deficiencies and was now in compliance with the accounting regulations for drug forfeiture funds. Conzelman was insistent the board members review the letter which directly contradicted reports from the DOJ regarding the current status of the township reporting and accounting procedures.
Listed as presenters of the letter were Heffernan and Cindy Kushner, “Plymouth Township Director of Accounting and Financial Reporting.”
Kushner was not present at the meeting. Heffernan, however, said he was unwilling to endorse the prepared letter to the DOJ noting that there were still missing items such as bank statements and general ledger records relating to the drug forfeiture funds. Heffernan commented, “I don’t feel comfortable until I see the big picture–bank statements, general ledger.
“I’m not suggesting what you should or should not do-that’s up to your judgment…I’m not here to tell you which way to deal with this thing.”
Board members rejected sending the letter by a 4-2 vote with only Conzelman and Edwards supporting the motion.
Tiderington said that the problem is not only with the federal funds. He said that $140,000 in state forfeiture funds were missing and unaccounted for. He said the checks were delivered to Edwards’ office and that two state checks totaling $72,000 were delivered to Edwards by Price but never accounted for by the office of the clerk, who keeps the banking records. He said Edwards’ practice of having bank statements sent to an off-site post office box was also of concern.
Tiderington said he felt compelled to report Edwards and the other officials to the Office of the Inspector General, “because the funds were being spent inappropriately.” At that time, Conzelman publicly claimed that she had called in the DOJ for “help” in the matter, and described the audit-investigation as “training,” a statement now denied by a federal official.
“There was $100,000 missing for over four years from the drug forfeiture account,” Tiderington said.
The police chief said he thought the auditors from Plante Moran were requested to appear at the meeting last Tuesday after he notified Price that the sharing of more than $5 million in seized assets would be lost.
Tiderington said he’s tried to bridge the stalemate between township officials and the DOJ, noting the threat of having the police department drug forfeiture funding cut would punish the police department, an entity he sought to protect by calling for the federal audit. “I called the DOJ and said if they wanted to ‘extinguish’ us from the program for non-compliance it would be the police department who’s getting punished.” He said he asked DOJ investigator for cooperation and reached an agreement to allow the township until Nov. 28 to comply.
Tiderington said the transfer of the funding last week by the board could allow Plymouth to remain in the program.
“The mishandling of these funds, as well as the missing state forfeiture funds, has precluded the police department from accessing these funds to purchase much needed equipment such as bullet-proof vests and police vehicles,” he said.
Tiderington said that he intends to provide the new board, sworn into office this week, with a comprehensive report as well as the investigative file.
Photo: © Don Howard / Associated Newspapers