by Matt Rosenberg October 11th, 2011
Chelan County Deputy Prosecutor Doug Shae said today a pre-trial settlement involving full restitution is likely in the case of a Douglas County Public Utility District employee whoaccording to a fraud investigation report released last week by the Washington State Auditor’s Office defrauded the PUD of at least $12,384.68 by using its fuel credit cards to repeatedly buy gas for his private vehicle over a stretch of more than four years.
The employee, who resigned in January, 2011 when confronted by his employers with evidence including videotapes and receipts, is Mark William Morrison, 45, of Cashmere, Wash. PUD spokesperson Meagan Vibbert says Morrison worked as a journeyman wireman making $36.17 per hour, and with overtime earned $78,349.94 in 2010. He is charged by Chelan County with first-degree theft.
Originally prompted by a missing fuel card, the utility district uncovered and documented the alleged diversion of public funds for private use by Morrison, covering a period from April 2006 into December, 2010. Most of the purchases under investigation in the case were at the fuel vendor’s Wenatchee location, unusual according to the state auditor’s report, “given that Wenatchee is not in Douglas County, where most of the District’s operations took place,” but in neighboring Chelan County. The auditor’s report says there were 251 questionable gas purchases made at the Wenatchee site, totaling $12,914.30, and that the employee (Morrison) was responsible for all but $742.82. Add to that another $213.20 in private gas purchases on weekends by the employee using a district fuel card at the same vendor’s East Wenatchee facility, and he misappropriated a total of $12,384.68, the state auditor’s report says.
First degree theft is a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years incarceration or a fine of up to $20,000, or both. The next court date is October 31, Shae confirmed today, also noting that based on talks with Morrison’s counsel, “I think we’re close to a resolution.” This would mean a pre-trial settlement including full restitution by Morrison, but not necessarily precluding some sort of prison term, Shae said.
The state auditor’s report recommends the utility district strengthen its internal controls to prevent improper use of fuel cards. Among the suggestions to district officials:
- Regularly inventory fuel cards, logging in all new ones, not just those received due to expirations or changes in vendor.
- Stop writing the PIN number on the outside of each card’s sleeve before placing it in the vehicle.
- Ensure employees keep and submit receipts for fuel purchases, and provide necessary training.
- Take oversight steps to ensure that purchases made with any one fuel card are only for one specific district vehicle, by matching reviewing related records. Ensure department heads regularly review and initial monthly log sheets of fuel purchases.
The state auditor’s report also recommends that the district seek recovery from Morrison of the misappropriated $12,384.68 and another $3,144 in investigation costs either from him or the district’s bonding company. The utility district responded that it agreed with all the recommendations in the state auditor’s report.
UPDATE, 5:58 p.m., 10/11/11: The Douglas County PUD provided this evening to Public Data Ferret a written summary of corrective actions it had already implemented following its discovery of fuel card misuse.
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