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A year-long investigation conducted by the office of State Auditor Rob Sand has revealed the misappropriation of several thousand dollars from the Wayne-Ringgold-Decatur (WRD) Landfill Commission bank accounts.
According to the report released October 10, the investigation identified $61,786.27 of cash withheld from daily tipping fees at the landfill which were not properly deposited. Investigators were unable to determine if additional collections were improperly handled due to inadequate documentation.
After concerns arose in summer of 2018 about undeposited cash collections, landfill office manager Jennifer Nickell of Allerton eventually admitted to WRD Commission Chair Kraig Pennington and Ringgold County auditor Amanda Waske to having taken cash collections for personal use.
In lieu of termination, Nickell submitted her resignation on June 26, 2018.
The Commission then asked the state auditor’s office to conduct a special investigation into financial transactions at the facility.
Covering a period of time between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2018, the investigation found undeposited collections within a month following WRD office manager Jennifer Nickell’s March 10, 2014 date of employment, with no irregularities were identified following Nickell’s resignation.
The auditors found undeposited collections in the amounts of $3,537.10 between March 10 and June 30, 2014; $17,406.64 in 2015; $17,184.70 in 2016; $12,349.05 in 2017 and $11,308.78 in 2018.
Prior to 2017, the Wayne County auditor acted as the WRD fiscal agent. The office manager was responsible for making deposits while the auditor and Commission chair oversaw all disbursements.
In January 2017 the fiscal agent duties were transferred to the office of the Ringgold County auditor at which time changes were made in the financial responsibilities associated with the landfill.
Nickell was still responsible for preparing all deposits but no longer was she to deposit the funds. Instead, she provided a deposit slip and supporting documentation to the Ringgold County auditor’s office where the deputy auditor reviews the deposit slip. The deposit is then reconciled by the county auditor, who deposits the funds with the county treasurer. All disbursements would continue as before.
In May 2018, Pennington instructed Nickell to submit daily close-out reports every Tuesday with the weekly deposits, but she failed to comply.
The incident that triggered the state investigation occurred on June 21, 2018, when the WRD office clerk Sheila Caldwell contacted Pennington with concerns about the balance in the cash drawer.
Upon his examination, the Pennington found the cash drawer to be short about $100 and the daily collection bag short about $26. Furthermore, upon further research, it was determined over $4,000 of cash had not been properly deposited dating back to mid-April 2018.
Pennington alerted Waske to his discoveries, and the two met with Nickell at the WRD office on June 30.
During that meeting, Nickell admitted to her misappropriation of the funds.
Waske immediately contacted the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office and the State Auditor’s office.
On June 26, the WRD Commission met in special session to ask for Nickell’s resignation.
The State Auditor’s report provides in intricate details an accounting of all financial transactions during the period reviewed in their investigation.
Furthermore, the auditor’s office recommended the WRD Commission put into place procedures to segregate the collection and depositing of receipts among multiple employees as well as conducting periodic comparisons of amounts collected and deposited by an individual independent of the handling and recording of collections.
The report has been filed with the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office; the state Division of Criminal Investigation; the Decatur, Ringgold, and Wayne county attorneys’ offices; and the state attorney general’s office.