Collaboration in Civic Spheres

WA Audit: Snoho-Skagit EMS boss tied to dubious spending

by John Stang September 6th, 2012

The Washington State Auditor’s Office concluded that potentially tens of thousands of dollar in public money went to an emergency services official under suspicious circumstances from 2002 to 2010, according to a fraud investigation report released Tuesday. The official was Bonnie Robinson, former executive director of the state-authorzied North Region Emergency Medical Services and Trauma Council, who resigned on Aug. 2, 2010, slightly more than two weeks after the council put her on administrative leave. The council referred the matter to the state auditor’s office in December 2010 for review, which was stalled during determinations of whether the state had the authority to do so. The council does not have insurance against this type of loss. Tuesday’s audit report said money was inadequately accounted for. It also recommended improvements to the council’s internal financial controls, and referred the matter to the Skagit County Prosecutor’s Office to see if any charges are warranted.

The council coordinates emergency medical services and trauma training for Skagit, Snohomish, Island, Whatcom and San Juan counties. It has an annual budget of roughly $315,000, of which about $170,000 goes to three full-time employees. Robinson’s annual salary grew from $40,498 in 2002 to $56,490 in 2010, but according to the state auditor’s fraud report, was augmented with a variety of expense and benefit benefit payments that lacked proper authorization or documentation.

In a December 2011 interview, Robinson told the auditor’s office that except for two credit card purchases totaling $273 on a conference trip to Israel, “she had done nothing wrong and the council still owes her for unused benefits,” the report said.

The council’s chairman Mik Preysz, chief of the Orcas Island Fire Department, and vice-chairwoman Lainey Volk of the San Juan Emergency Medical Services could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

“We found council records, in most instances, were not sufficient to allow us to determine whether a misappropriation occurred,” the auditor’s report said.

In the report, the council acknowledged problems in its internal financial controls and said it will address them. The council is considering whether to pursue either criminal or civil actions against Robinson, but told the state that it will decline to do so if Robinson agrees to repay the council $71,306, which includes the audit expenses of $22,005. The other sought-after reimbursements include $28,958 in improperly cashed-out benefits, $19,468 in unauthorized purchases, $273 for unauthorized gifts bought on the trip to Israel, and $601 in other reimbursements.

The audit report said the state could not determine the public purposes of $32,038 in Robinson’s credit card transactions, and the council did not keep receipts or other documents to account for $31,727 of that amount. The state identified $28,957 in legally unsupported payments to Robinson, and a misappropriation of $874. The council paid $813 in penalties for late or unpaid credit card payments.

The $874 is the only money that the state can concretely conclude was misappropriated, said State Auditor’s Office spokeswoman Mindy Chambers. The rest of the findings can only conclude that the proper paperwork is not available. And the different sets of questionable figures overlap, making it impossible to calculate an overall amount for the fuzzy allocations, she said.

The council has the legal option to seek reimbursement for the allocations that are missing the appropriate paperwork – which is why it can legally seek a $71,306 reimbursement, Chambers said.

Meanwhile, the audit also found:

  • Six overpayments totaling $12,277 to Robinson for unused vacation time, in which documentation could not be found.
  • Six payments totaling $13,026 for other cashed-out unused benefits, again without documents to prove that the council owed those to Robinson.
  • Robinson receiving $10,213 in mileage and expense reimbursements from Jan. 1, 2008, to July 15, 2010, of which $3,654 did not have documentation and $601 consisted of duplicated reimbursements.
  • Robinson used her council credit card for $58,278 in purchases from January 2007 through July 2010. The state auditor’s office reviewed $27,195 of those purchases and found no receipts or documents for $24,401 of that amount. The purchases included hotels, rental cars, meals, flowers, computer equipment, books, clothes, groceries and hair stylists, the report said.
  • Robinson made $7,911 in unauthorized credit card purchases in 2009 and 2010, mostly related to an emergency preparedness conference in Israel.

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