TN Comptroller report finds McMinn Veterans Services Office used unauthorized bank account

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According to the director, the bank account was opened for the purpose of collecting donations to be used for veterans’ ceremonies and benefits. (Image: MGN)
A report released Thursday by the Tennessee Comptroller finds that the director of the McMinn County Veterans Services Office used an unauthorized bank account to handle funds.

The report says on January 29, 2015, the VSO director opened an unauthorized bank account under her exclusive signature entitled the McMinn County Veterans Fund, and bank statements were mailed to the director’s home.

According to the director, the bank account was opened for the purpose of collecting donations to be used for veterans’ ceremonies and benefits.

As of July 14, 2016, the bank account had a balance of $227.07.

The Comptroller’s examination revealed several deficiencies related to the bank account, which “weakened internal controls over collections and disbursements, increased risks of fraud and misappropriation, and can be attributed to a lack of management oversight.”

On July 31, 2015, the VSO director resigned; however, the report says the director did not inform McMinn County officials of the existence of the bank account, nor did she remove her name from the account at the time of her resignation. The report also says these transactions weren’t accounted for in the McMinn County budget.

The director says in the report, “On January 29, 2015, I did, in fact, open a bank account for the express purpose of receiving donations for veteran’s ceremonies. I did this in order to have a paper trail for the donors. I was never at any time during my tenure at McMinn County VSO told that I was not allowed to open a bank account. Neither was I ever told that any money had to be turned over to the McMinn County government. On January 29, 2015, I opened a bank account entitled McMinn County Veterans Fund with myself being the only one listed on the account. I had the bank statements mailed to my home address because it was easier to keep up with. The bank account was never closed and has a $227.07 balance. On September 17, 2015, a $200 debit card purchase was made out of this account by mistake. The debit card in question that was used for this purchase is identical to my personal debit card. Once the mistake was discovered, I immediately corrected the error by depositing the money into the correct account. Since I was never told that I could not open an account, and I was not aware that I had to give receipts or invoices. The foremost question that I pose is: How can anyone be expected to adhere to said procedures, if they were never informed of them? In summation, I honestly thought that I was being proactive and doing the right thing by opening an account so there could be some kind of fiscal accounting or paper trail. However, if I had known or been told before January 29, 2015, that I could not open an account, then this subject would have been a non-issue. The account is still open, and all of the money is still there. I will be happy to transfer the funds, liquidate/close the account, and turn it over to the McMinn County government upon request.”

The report recommended, “As a department of McMinn County, all collections should be deposited with the county trustee and accounted for through a fund of the county managed by the county’s finance director.”

McMinn County Mayor John M. Gentry told the Comptroller, “I appreciate the thorough and professional investigation conducted by your investigators and will make sure their recommendations are effectively communicated. Regarding the issue we had with the former veteran’s service officer, I will send out a memo to all county department heads to inform them that no department has the authority to open an independent account.”

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