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Forensic audit needed in Safety Harbor

Sides argue over theft case | story, May 24

Forensic audit needed in city

I have been continuously disturbed by the reports I have read regarding the matter of the alleged embezzlement of more than $200,000 in the past year alone from the taxpayers of Safety Harbor. My disgust over the crime itself is compounded by what appears to be unwillingness on the part of the city and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office to thoroughly investigate and prosecute this case and to rush to conclusion the slap-on-the-wrist judgment being offered to this thief.

If the reports I have read are correct, it seems that neither the leaders of our community nor the state officer charged with securing justice has an appetite for the hard work warranted by the seriousness of this crime.

The case against Safety Harbor's former finance director should not end without having all the answers to five important questions:

1. How much money has been stolen?

2. How long has this criminal activity been going on in our community?

3. Are there any other individuals who are culpable or prosecutable?

4. How can we retrieve appropriate restitution so the criminal doesn't prosper even after having been caught?

5. How do we assure ourselves that the necessary procedures and safeguards are in place so that this level of malfeasance and misfeasance doesn't happen again?

It is my understanding that the city has only looked at one year's worth of financial information using city employees and the external auditors. The external auditors, who don't do as detailed digging as internal or forensic auditors, for years have given glowing reports of the city's finances and the former finance director.

We need a real forensic multi-year audit, suitable for use in a court of law. A forensic audit wouldn't involve the use of city staff to do anything except to point the auditors in the right direction to our accounting records.

While the mayor of Safety Harbor, I called for an internal or forensic audit in 2005 and was ridiculed for it. Those who stood in the way of that call should be embarrassed by their failure to act, but their shame must not be allowed to interfere with the absolute necessity for action now.

We don't know how long this criminal activity has been going on, but it defies logic to assume that suddenly one day last year it was initiated. The lax accounting procedures that existed in 2008 had been in place for some time, and it was that lack of checks and balances that motivated me to ask for an audit four years ago.

One thing is certain, we need to follow this investigation as far back as we can to discover the extent of what may have been done to our community. We need to identify any other crimes she may have committed. If she has admitted taking $70,000 to $80,000 already, did she pay tax on that money? If she used the city credit card in different states and used the city's tax-free identification number to avoid paying tax on things she purchased, aren't those crimes that should be punished?

Perhaps with admissible facts detailing the scale of the crime, we may be able to persuade the criminal to make a fuller reimbursement and accept a more fitting term of incarceration.

The city has a forensic auditor on retainer. Certainly the State Attorney's Office has qualified investigators who can probe this major crime. I urge the City Commission and the state attorney to form a task force and work together to properly address this insult to the public trust.

Finally, I believe it's imperative for the city to thoroughly review all financial procedures with independent experts who can guide us in setting in place the processes, checks and balances that will help restore the taxpayers' confidence that the professional staff and the elected leaders of Safety Harbor are adequately restrained from abusing the power and trust invested in them.

Pam Corbino, Safety Harbor

Fines for false alarms will bring real benefits | editorial, May 24

What about alarm installers?

The St. Petersburg Times editorial board agrees that homeowners who have residence alarms installed by alarm companies should pay a fine for false alarms, due to the burden placed on law enforcement agencies in responding to these alarms.

The more important issue that the editorial board did not address is the role of the alarm companies that install the equipment.

The role of the companies most often begins by representatives of the companies obtaining information about burglary victims from the various police agencies and then contacting the victims and informing them that they can install alarm equipment for a monthly fee, and that the police agency in their area would quickly respond to the alarms with proper action.

A reasonable person would conclude that the alarm companies should also pay a fee for each alarm that a police agency responds to.

Van E. Vergetis, Holiday

Food drive took in 31,000 pounds

On behalf of the staff and board of directors at Homeless Emergency Project, or HEP, I want to thank all who donated, collected and volunteered during the 17th annual National Association of Letter Carriers Food Drive.

During the Stamp Out Hunger campaign, letter carriers again went beyond the call of duty to collect much-needed food supplies on the nation's largest single-day food drive. This idea that began simply so many years ago grows each year in scope and success and reaches out to so many in need.

Residents of Pinellas County, you generously gave from your own cupboards to help those in need in your community. You can feel good knowing that food that was collected locally stays local, including right here at HEP, a comprehensive homeless rehabilitation center in Clearwater. Volunteers and HEP staff, you put in long hours on a hot Saturday to collect, sort and shelve the 31,000 pounds of donated food supplies.

Without this food drive, and the efforts of the whole community, our kitchen wouldn't be able to provide more than 100,000 warm, nutritious meals to homeless individuals and families each year!

Barbara Green, president & CEO, Homeless Emergency Project, Clearwater

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Forensic audit needed in Safety Harbor 06/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 5:12pm]
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