by RONNIE ELLIS, CNHI News Service –
FRANKFORT – The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife failed to maintain adequate internal controls which may have led to the misappropriations of $90,000 in permit fees, according to a report by the state Auditor of Public Accounts.
Auditor Mike Harmon announced Wednesday that his finding about the possible misappropriation of fees at Fish and Wildlife has been referred to the Kentucky State Police and the Executive Branch Ethics Commission.
According to Harmon’s office, Fish and Wildlife conducted an internal investigation which found suspected misappropriation of permit fees in the department’s central Frankfort office and notified Harmon’s office, KSP and the ethics commission.
Harmon’s staff conducted a subsequent review and found “instances where fees paid for permits could not be raced within the system, not allowing for confirmation the money had been deposited.”
The press release said the department’s internal investigation identified potentially more than $90,000 in suspected misappropriations since 2007.
“While we appreciate the cooperation and diligence shown by the department in identifying and bringing this issue to light, it is our belief that further investigation by law enforcement and the Executive Branch Ethics commission warranted,” Harmon said.
Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Gregory K. Johnson said as soon as his department’s internal investigation indicated a potential problem, “we invited Kentucky State Police to look into this suspected embezzlement” and also notified the ethics commission.
“We immediately took action to put stronger internal safeguards in place,” Johnson said. “We now require all receipts to be verified by multiple staff, including a supervisor.”
Johnson said the matter remains under active criminal investigation by Kentucky State Police “and we have been requested not to comment further.”
Among the findings spelled out in the auditor’s report are that fees from five of 332 permit applications could not be traced in the department’s database system and therefore could not be confirmed to have been deposited. The fees totaled $1,625.
After “a small amount of cash” was thought to be missing in January the department launched its own investigation and uncovered a pattern of suspected misappropriation involving “a significant amount of money missing over multiple years.”
The report says an unnamed employee was suspected and upon completion of the internal investigation was discharged.
The audit indicates the investigation “revealed that a single employee was involved” and the matter was reported to the Executive Branch Ethics Commission in February. The report says Fish and Wildlife continues to cooperate with the authorities investigating the matter.
According to the audit, no “licensee or permittees were impacted by this misappropriation. Every individual who purchased a license or permit received a valid license or permit.
The primary source of revenue for the Department is the issuance of hunting and fishing licenses. The permits that were affected by this matter were a small percentage of the Department’s revenue, according to the audit report.