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Alleged credit card misuse colors annual Safety Harbor audit

SAFETY HARBOR — Every year at this time, laptop-toting auditors stake out a site in the finance department conference room for about three weeks and begin excavating the city's financial records layer by layer.

But this year's dig, which starts Dec. 22, is anything but routine.

The auditors are well aware that the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office is prosecuting former finance director JoAnne Ryan, who was arrested in September and charged with grand theft.

She is accused of making personal charges of more than $15,000 on the city's American Express and Visa credit cards since April 2007. She has pleaded not guilty.

City Manager Matt Spoor said he has told the auditing firm "there's a case out there, and anything related to that case they will look at.''

"Every detail relating to the State Attorney's investigation they will look at,'' he said. "That is outside the scope of what they typically do.''

The audit will be done by certified public accountants from LarsonAllen LLP, which absorbed ValienteHernandez P.A., the same firm the city has used for years. LarsonAllen is a national firm with four offices in Florida.

Spoor said if an auditor discovers any suspicious or illegal activity, "they will dig further.''

He said the cost of the audit will not exceed $32,000, "however, the cost of any additional work will be negotiated.''

Other than two transactions totaling less than $500, all of the unapproved charges Ryan made were in the 2007-08 fiscal year LarsonAllen has yet to examine, Spoor said.

"The credit card (activity) occurred in the fiscal year they are auditing,'' he said. "They wouldn't have caught it until this year's audit.''

Spoor was the one who uncovered the misdeed when a document relating to one of the bills came to him while Ryan was on vacation. That led him to take a closer look and question her about credit card charges.

According to Spoor, Ryan made 53 unauthorized transactions on her city-issued credit cards from April 17, 2007, through Aug. 11, 2008, totaling $15,109.46. She has paid back all but $4,629.27.

The majority relate to the Clearwater Green Wave AAU basketball club on which her daughters played.

A pre-trial hearing for Ryan is set for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 12 at the Pinellas County Courthouse.

An internal review of the finance department continues, headed by new finance director June Solanes, former director of budget and accounting for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).

"I've told June, 'If you find something that smells, bring it to me,' '' Spoor said.

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

Alleged credit card misuse colors annual Safety Harbor audit 12/04/08 [Last modified: Sunday, December 7, 2008 10:29am]
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