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Source: US State of Ohio

 

For Immediate Release:                                                      

November 5, 2020                                                                 

Stark Area Regional Transit Authority Special Audit Released with Findings Totaling Over $400,000

 

Columbus – Auditor of State Keith Faber’s Special Investigations Unit released the Special Audit of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA). The report included multiple findings for recovery and resulted in criminal charges for the gross abuse of tax dollars. Kristy Williams and Brandy Pryor were the main culprits racking up a combined total of $442,983 in inappropriate expenses.

“Williams and Pryor deceived and manipulated their community as they used SARTA as their personal bank account,” said Auditor Faber. “My Special Investigations Unit did a nice job of compiling this report and making sure justice was served.”

The special audit and investigation identified multiple schemes perpetrated by Ms. Williams and Ms. Pryor over a span of eight years.  The schemes are highlighted below:

Tuition Reimbursements

Kristy Williams and Brandy Pryor submitted fictitious college documents to obtain tuition reimbursement payments from SARTA in excess of authorized amounts as follows:

Employee                     Reimbursed Amount   Allowable Amount      Unallowable Amount

Kristy Williams             $30, 769                       $4,793                          $25,976

Brandy Pryor                $20,158                        $5,416                          $14,742

Travel Expenses

 Kristy Williams received the following unallowable travel reimbursements:

· Three mileage reimbursement payments totaling $370, not supported with documentation; therefore, we were not able to verify the amount of mileage reimbursement was accurate;

· One $80 airport shuttle reimbursement payment in which Ms. Williams drove to the conference rather than flying. Therefore, the shuttle reimbursement would not be allowable; and

· Two meal per diem reimbursements, totaling $571, to attend two human resource related conferences, one in October 2017 and one in April 2018; however, we were not able to identify that conference fees were paid for Ms. Williams to attend those conferences.

Brandy Pryor received the following unallowable travel reimbursements:

· Two meal per diem reimbursements totaling $220 for which we were not able to identify any overnight stays associated with Ms. Pryor’s travel; and

· One mileage reimbursement payment was not calculated correctly, resulting in a $3 overpayment.

Improper Credit Card Purchases

SARTA provided a Wellness Program for employees who stopped smoking and remained tobacco free. SARTA would administer random testing of employees and then provide rewards to qualifying employees. Kristy Williams was responsible for administering SARTA’s Wellness Program, which included purchasing testing strips and other non-smoking products, and testing employees. During the period, auditors identified 216 Rite Aid purchases totaling $240,134 on SARTA-issued credit cards and noted none of the items purchased were associated with the purchase of testing strips or other non-smoking products. The items purchased included VISA and miscellaneous vendor gift cards, food, beverages, cosmetics, cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous items, which were all determined to be personal and not for SARTA purposes.

Ms. Williams also made the following unallowable purchases on SARTA-issued credit cards:

· $8,666 related to unallowable travel to conferences and seminars;

· $24,211 in purchases not supported with an original receipt; therefore, we were not able to determine whether the items purchased were proper and for SARTA purposes; and,

· $7,926 in vendor gift cards or gift card reloads, food and other miscellaneous items that appear to be personal and not for SARTA operations.

Ms. Pryor made the following unallowable purchases on SARTA-issued credit cards:

· $1,224 in unallowable transportation costs, food, hotel upgrades, and other miscellaneous travel expenses not for SARTA purposes; and,

· $2,950 in vendor gift cards, food, and other miscellaneous items.

Auditors also identified seven credit card purchases, totaling $1,107, for personal expenses incurred for the benefit of other SARTA employees and not for SARTA business purposes. Of the seven credit card purchases,

· Two purchases, totaling $188, were made by a SARTA employee and do not appear to be for a proper SARTA purpose; and,

· Five purchases, totaling $919, on a SARTA-issued credit card, we were not able to determine which SARTA employee made the purchases and do not appear to be for a proper SARTA purpose.

Board Resolution #35-2015 authorizes the Executive Director/CEO to implement the credit card policy, thus, Executive Director, Kirt Conrad, was responsible for implementing the credit card policy and ensuring SARTA established a proper system of controls over the use of the credit cards. On October 15, 2020, Mr. Conrad repaid $1,107 to SARTA and the payment was deposited to SARTA’s operating account.

Human Resource Director Salary

An investigation uncovered Ms. Williams submitted fraudulent and fictitious college records as well as a fraudulent resume to SARTA to obtain the Human Resource Director position, to which she was promoted in September 2014. Further, as a result of Ms. Williams’ promotion, Brandy Pryor was also promoted to fill her previous position. Ms. Williams cost SARTA $113,503 as a result of her fraudulently obtained promotion.

Federal Home Energy Assistance Fraud

Households with income at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty guidelines are eligible for a federally funded program that provides Ohioans assistance with their home energy bills. The investigation revealed Ms. Williams provided altered payroll documents and received federal home energy assistance benefits totaling $2,407 from the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP).

Issued Findings for Recovery

On May 18, 2020, Judge Frank Forchione ordered restitution of $406,594 against Kristy Williams and on June 29, 2020, ordered restitution of $14,742 against Brandy Pryor. However, $20,696 was ordered in favor of Guardian Insurance (a nongovernmental entity) related to the disability insurance fraud and therefore will be excluded from the finding for recovery total below.

Additionally, a finding for recovery was issued against Kristy Williams in the amount of $423,844, and Brandy Pryor in the amount of $19,139, in favor of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in the amount of $440,576 and in favor of the Ohio Development Services Agency in the amount of $2,407.

A full copy of this report is available online.

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The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio is responsible for auditing more than 6,000 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Keith Faber, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies, and promotes transparency in government.

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