Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Yet another sticky-fingered caper reported at UW-Seattle

by April 27th, 2012

Adding to a continuing series of revelations on ethical and fiscal misconduct at the University of Washington in Seattle, the university’s Office of Internal Audit has in response to a Washington State Public Records Act request by Public Data Ferret, released a report detailing the misappropriation of $6,555 from the UW Chemistry Department by a fiscal specialist named Deanna K. Brewer. She had been allowed wide latitude in processing cash and check deposits for office and lab keys, and the handling of related refunds. Several public records sources reveal that Brewer is 43, and lives in the Rainier View neighborhood in far southeast Seattle.

Case stemmed from DUI arrest in Renton
A UW Police investigation, which led to the audit report, began shortly after the 6 a.m. arrest last November 25 in Renton of Brewer by a Washington State Patrol officer for DUI, speeding, driving without proof of insurance, and knowingly giving false information (by first providing a fake ID). The arrest report from the state patrol reveals that after she blew a .184 and then a .175 (well above the legal limit of .08 blood alcohol content while driving) Brewer was arrested and booked into King County Jail where the inventoried contents of her purse were found to include an envelope, checks and cash related to her work at UW.

Digging deeper, auditors found Brewer had misappropriated $6,555 in so-called “key deposit cash receipts” intended for the Chemistry Department. Department rules state that any teachers, students visitors or employees must make a personal cash or check deposit before getting keys for office and/or research lab space, and that the deposit is returned only when they officially relinquish their space.

The audit found that Brewer was able to siphon key deposit cash receipts away from the department to herself because she had conflicting duties. She was responsible not only for taking and preparing the key fees for deposit to a department bank account, she also reconciled the deposits to the account statements from the bank and to the department’s financial records. This allowed her to divert funds from the university and effectively cover her tracks.

Accounting safeguards weren’t in place
In their report to Chemistry Department Chair Paul Hopkins, university auditors reported the department was failing to take safeguards against diversion of cash and checks for the key deposits. Cash receipts were stowed unlocked in a records book in an unlocked desk cabinet, and were not being deposited until 10 to 90 days later, rather than within the required timeframe of weekly, or sooner whenever deposits exceeded $500. In addition, when the cash receipts were transferred from the department’s business office to Brewer in the department’s accounting office, there was no accounting of the amount taken into custody by her.

Auditors also found that checks received for key deposits were not “restrictively endorsed” upon receipt to prevent diversion to unintended parties, and that the fiscal specialist (Brewer) had no oversight of her ability to authorize, sign checks and do related financial record-keeping for reimbursements reported to have been issued to faculty, students and others for their key deposit fees.

Corrections made; Brewer discharged
The department responded in the audit that it has implemented all the fiscal controls recommended in the report to prevent similar problems from re-occuring, and that it will seek restitution from Brewer. She was placed on leave in December and discharged by the university in January.

Th audit recommends the university seek restitution from Brewer for the diverted funds. But typically restitution is not sought in such cases, nor any possible criminal charges filed, until after a re-examination of the case is done by the State Auditor’s Office. This can take several months at the least.

One in a series of recent ethics cases at UW
The new audit report on the alleged misappropriation of UW funds by Brewer is but the latest in a series of ethics cases at UW-Seattle. Public Data Ferret’s University of Washington+Ethics archive details a number of others which have occurred in recent months. These include:

  • The unsolved theft of $12,000 from an unlocked file cabinet drawer of an assistant coach to the UW track team;
  • The misappropriation of almost $9,000 by a supervisor at Harborview Hospital, managed by UW Medicine;
  • The misappropriation of more than $17,000 by another Harborview employee;
  • The quiet discharge of a UW School of Social Work assistant dean who falsified class credits for 139 students to help maintain their financial aid status;
  • A UW Medical Center pediatrics professor who used her influence to win a job for her unqualified daughter.

Public Data Ferret is a news knowledge base program of the Seattle-based 501c3 public charity, Public Eye Northwest. Ferret In The News; Donate.

5 Responses to “Yet another sticky-fingered caper reported at UW-Seattle”

  1. Ben "Jammin" says:

    Good going Ferret. My only thought is that there are way worse things going on to chase after with Public Records requests. WAY worse. Need ideas? Write me.

  2. John Hoverson says:

    The university of washington has 40,000 employees and $4 billion in revenue and you come with $40,000 in problems.

    Do you think that you are an exercise in trivial thinking?

  3. John, the archive of UW ethics stories to which I linked actually documents a cumulative price tag of $533,000 associated with those cases, not $40,000. And this is hardly a full compendium. But it’s not just about the amount of money, it’s the conduct itself that warrants airing. I’ve got a lot of respect for all the good things UW does and the quality of the instruction and research there. UW’s work in the sciences is a case in point. However, as a public institution, it should be held to high standards of ethical conduct. You seem to be advancing a line of argument that fiscal ethics are situational, depending on how much is misappropriated. I’m quite sure they teach the opposite at UW’s Foster Business School.

  4. Putnam Barber says:

    Who could question holding UW (or any other instititution, public or private) to “high standards of ethical conduct”? One problem is, though, that badly designed standards also deplete the resources available for the core work the institution exists to do by all sorts of inefficiencies and pointless complication. So institutions should be held to high standards about the ways they manage their standards, as well how well the standards are observed. All too often, sloppy design and simple inattention leave openings for troubled people and opportunistic crooks. I bet the Foster School of Business is teaching about the design of “internal controls.” Good ones don’t tangle hard-working people in red tape while still drawing boundaries that are hard to cross.

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