State Capital Bureau
JEFFERSON CITY - Up to 40 percent of travel reimbursement claims submitted by a Corrections Department unit in the mid-Missouri area could have been falsified, according to a special audit by the State Auditor's office.
Quested by the audit are 1,234 of the 3,108 receipts submitted between January and October 1996 by the Boone and Cole counties Central Transportation Unit. About $14,600 was disbursed to unit employees based on claims made with the receipts.
Thirty-seven employees, including supervisors, may have submitted questionable receipts for expenses incurred while transporting inmates to court appearances, between institutions and to medical services.
"Almost everyone in that unit, we believe, was participating," said Frank Ybarra, communications director for the State Auditor.
The Corrections Department said it now is conducting an internal investigation to determine employees' involvement and what -- if any --disciplinary measures should be taken.
"If there's action that needs to be taken, it will be taken quickly," said Tim Kniest, Public Information Officer for the department.
In addition, the Corrections Department has changed its policy to require employees to submit dated credit card or register receipts for reimbursements.
Expense accounts were reviewed by the state auditor as part of the routine audit of the Corrections Department. Problems in the unit's accounts prompted a special audit which revealed that some receipts were not genuine and that the unit had a higher per meal cost than other, similar units.
According to the State Auditor's report, auditors found that some receipts came from the same pad, but were submitted as though they were from different locations. Because the receipts were number-stamped, those submitted out of sequence revealed that they could not have been issued on the date claimed.
Other receipts, according to the audit, were altered by "changing the receipt dates or receipt numbers, removing the restaurant name and location, and cutting the receipts to a different size."
Auditors found that the average meal cost for the unit was "significantly higher" than that their counterparts elsewhere.
For example, the average in-state meal for the Boone and Cole counties' medical unit cost $8.68 while the St. Francois County unit's average in-state meal cost $5.43. The unit's out-of-state average meal was $4.48 more than that of Washington County's unit and $2.06 more than that of St. Francois County's unit.
"There doesn't appear to be a reasonable explanation for why their per meal costs should be higher," Ybarra said. "Certainly, we have cause to question the receipts that were submitted that were clearly false."
Employees of the unit said that "receipts were difficult to obtain, were sometimes lost and were often not a priority because of the nature of their job," according to the report.
"It's possible, maybe, some of these employees simply forgot to get these receipts and made some receipts up afterward later just to comply with the policy," Ybarra said.
The department requires its employees to submit actual receipts for expenses.
Even if some of these questionable receipts represent actual expenses, Ybarra said he is concerned because of the combination of the falsified reports and the higher average meal costs.