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County audits that aren’t audits reveal little
by Mike Kroll
The Knox County Board held a special session Tuesday night where they voted unanimously to release a report from the Moline accounting firm of Carpentier, Mitchell, Goddard & Company most of us believed was an audit of the finances of the Knox County sheriff and state's attorney's offices for a three-year period ending November 30, 2006. The 25-page report begins by telling use that it is NOT an audit but rather and “independent accountant's report on applying agreed-upon procedures” to the accounting records of the two departments. It took almost a year and nearly $30,000 to deliver a report that essentially says that the accounting methods in these two offices were extremely sloppy and that lack of proper accounting controls potentially created the opportunity for financial shenanigans.
However, we dare not read this report as I have just described because the accountants went to great lengths to qualify this report into meaningless drivel. “These agreed-upon procedures do not constitute an audit or review of financial statements or any part thereof, the objective of which is the expression of an opinion or limited assurances on the financial statements or a part thereof. Also we express no opinion on Knox County's accounting system or internal control over financial reporting, or any part thereof. Had we performed additional procedures other matters might have come to our attention that would have been reported to you”
It should be noted that this is the same accounting firm that was responsible for Knox County's regular annual audits during the time period covered by this report. Had they discovered and reported substantial irregularities they would essentially have been admitting that their audits were less than meticulous or complete. In fairness to the accountants, each of their prior annual audits included a “management letter” to the county board that recommended implementation of some of the same controls included among this report's recommendations but few if any were ever implemented before now.
It is made clear in the report that many of the improved procedures have already been put into effect and greater responsibility for handling the financial accounting of the sheriff and state's attorney's offices has been returned to the Knox County treasurer's office. These changes appear to have been implemented over the last three months and the report makes note of a much higher level of cooperation between the two departments in question and the treasurer's office.
To say that this result is a let down is an incredible understatement. Regardless of whether or not the finances in these two departments were or were not mismanaged; and this report takes no position on this point at all; the report can be synthesized into a single sentence.
Due to the almost total lack of proper accounting procedures or controls, sloppy record keeping and lack of oversight it is impossible to account with any certainty exactly how the monies managed by these departments were collected or spent other than that the apparent size of any discrepancies doesn't appear to be sizable. (synopsis mine)
Nowhere does this report appear to support charges of criminal behavior by either former sheriff Jim Thompson or former state's attorney (now judge) Paul Mangieri and that is no doubt why Ninth Circuit Judge Ed Danner instructed Knox County board chair Alan Pickrel that he could finally release the report to the county board. Although this report was initiated at the behest of the Knox County board and not by any of the investigatory authorities still looking into the matter at the state and federal level Judge Danner had initially requested that the report be withheld from county officials until he, special prosecutor (and former judge) William Poncin, the Illinois State Police and the FBI had the opportunity to review the report and okay its release. Presumably, had Danner or any of the investigators believed that this report contained potentially useful evidence against either Thompson or Mangieri it would not have been released at this time.
Thompson moved away from this area shortly after he resigned as sheriff last year and is not available to seek comment but Mangieri is a sitting judge in the ninth circuit, continues to reside in Galesburg. Mangieri had clearly read the report closely by Tuesday evening is understandably pleased. “I am thrilled that the audits have now been released. I am thrilled that the voters can now, for the first time, see objectively what these ill conceived, ill advised and ill motivated investigations have been all about. Nowhere is there in the report even the suggestion of any criminal wrongdoing on the part of either Sheriff Thompson or myself. From the very beginning both Sheriff Thompson have been clear and consistent on this point. I respectfully suggest that the taxpayers will contrast our consistantcy with the shifting rationalizations given by those who called for these ill conceived investigations in the first place.”
Mangieri goes even further to say, with regard to his tenure as Knox County state's attorney, “the report does not highlight either poor record keeping or lack of suficient controls over the handling of money.” He points out that no cash was ever handled directly by his office and indeed the comments about cash handling contained within the report are specific to the sheriff's office. Additionally he said:
“If you look at my total budget for the three year period in question, which totals to an amount of roughly a million and a quarter dollars, the audit reports that total expenditures of $5,747.31 had either 'missing, incomplete, or improper documentation' I quite frankly do not know what that means, in as much as every request for payment was made by submitting a county pay voucher with accompanying documentation which was required, otherwise it was not paid. This statement from the auditors is particularly interesting in as much as in their report they make the statement that they were not able to locate any forfeiture case files in the office. This would be true, but it reveals the level of their lack of understanding of the office, in as much as all drug forfeitures were not handled by my office, but by a special attorney out of Peoria on contract with the Appellate Prosecutors Office.”
To put it simply, the citizens of Knox County have paid nearly $30,000 for an audit that wasn't an audit, to obtain a report almost a year later that was initially supposed to be available “within weeks,” and that report is more damning on the county's lack of adequate financial controls than it is enlightening on the controversy involving current state's attorney John Pepmeyer with Mangieri and Thompson. Criminal investigations of sexual harassment against Pepmeyer have long since been dropped as unfounded while parallel civil cases curiously continue. Meanwhile we have learned little recently about the status of on-going investigations into Mangieri and Thompson and the former appears quite likely to be elected circuit court judge in November.