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Police records room fraud cost Pittsburgh thousands

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Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 3:06 p.m.
 

Lax supervision and shoddy financial controls in the Pittsburgh police records room could cost the city as much as $31,721, the city controller said in an audit released Thursday.

A part-time records room cashier took $17,140 in cash between Oct. 11, 2011 and Nov. 15, Controller Michael Lamb said. The city also stands to lose $14,581 in outdated checks the cashier failed to deposit because banks are unlikely to accept them now, Lamb said.

The cashier resigned in November after she admitted the theft. Police implemented tighter controls — some of which the audit now recommends — that include no longer accepting cash and ensuring that the person preparing deposit slips is not the same person taking them to the bank.

“There was an opportunity there to commit this fraud,” Lamb said. “That opportunity should not have been there.”

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard declined comment, citing a criminal investigation. Police and city officials have not identified the cashier.

Lamb, a Democratic candidate for mayor who as controller serves as the city's fiscal watchdog, said the police bureau's problems are not unique.

“This is something we know is a problem citywide,” he said.

Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, said police asked Lamb to conduct the audit and provide recommendations.

“The mayor looks forward to reviewing these recommendations and seeing them implemented,” she said.

The biggest problem was that duties in the records room were not property segregated, Lamb said.

The city charges a fee for providing police reports. The cashier collects money, prepares revenue records and deposit slips, and takes money collected to the bank. No one double-checked to ensure that daily receipts matched daily bank deposits, the audit said.

Lamb said auditors found 3,714 checks that were not deposited, and speculated that the cashier was substituting them for cash she later received so amounts deposited matched amounts received.

“The person who is preparing the deposit slips should not be the person making the cash run,” he said. “Segregating those duties eliminates the possibility of committing fraud.”

Auditors found that two cashiers in the records room use a register that is not automated; deposits from the records room are not reconciled to the city accounting system; cashiers are not bonded; and voided transactions are not adequately documented or reviewed.

Police made a change, later recommended in the audit, to require people seeking copies of records to pay by check or money order. They also plan to begin reconciling accounts.

Lamb said they're still using an outdated cash register that cannot produce a daily record of receipts. He recommended that all city departments permit credit card payments.

“The key is that employees need to know that someone's looking,” he said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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