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Officials think Safety Harbor's ex-finance director took much more than $15,000

SAFETY HARBOR — Former finance director JoAnne Ryan originally was charged with grand theft and accused of making more than $15,000 in personal charges on city credit cards.

Now officials say it could be more — much more.

"We are looking into some additional allegations of money missing from the city,'' said Assistant State Attorney Gregory Groger.

It is not clear how much investigators believe is unaccounted for.

But Safety Harbor spokesman Brad Purdy said the amount is "significant.'' And he confirmed that the city has put in a claim for $100,000-plus with its insurance carrier, Public Risk Management of Florida.

Ryan was fired Aug. 20. She is accused of making personal charges on the city's American Express and Visa credit cards since April 2007, most in connection with a basketball team on which her daughters played.

She has pleaded not guilty. She did not return a call seeking comment for this story.

The city asked accountants to look more closely at the books during its annual external audit. That audit is expected to be completed next week.

Mayor Andy Steingold said the city is not planning a forensic audit because the cost would be too steep — estimated to be as high as $150,000.

"We're still digging ourselves,'' he said.

Purdy said city officials believe that part of the alleged theft may have worked like this: A parent signing his or her child up for a city athletic activity would pay the required fee at the recreation center. Before making the day's deposit, they believe, Ryan would dig into the bag and retrieve the money and pocket it.

The State Attorney's Office investigation is continuing.

Another pretrial hearing is set for Monday for Ryan at the Pinellas County Courthouse. But like previous hearings, it is expected to be continued, Groger said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Officials think Safety Harbor's ex-finance director took much more than $15,000 01/23/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 23, 2009 9:54pm]
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