Utility clerk fired, could face charges

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 12, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / August 12, 2000

LAPLACE – A St. John the Baptist Parish billing clerk was fired Thursdayafter an investigation uncovered the fact the clerk had failed to deposit nearly $60,000 in utility payments.

St. John Finance Director Jeff Clement said $22,700 of the money is stillmissing even though the fired employee confessed and returned $37,000.

Clement would not name the employee.

The fired clerk worked in the Garyville billing office. Utility bills are collectedat that office and at the end of the day parish employees make a deposit of checks and cash into the bank. They receive a carbon copy of the depositslip, which is checked against the utility bill stubs to make sure everything has been deposited. The utility customer is then credited for paying their bill.Then the validated deposit slips are reconciled with the carbon copies and the utility stubs to make sure that everything has been deposited.

In mid-July, a clerk in LaPlace was reconciling the utility deposits and discovered several outstanding deposits.

A call to the Garyville office revealed that some deposits had been left in the safe by mistake. These checks were deposited, but there were stilloutstanding deposits on the record.

At the same time the parish was getting calls from customers saying their checks had not been cashed by the parish.

An internal audit showed that other deposits were missing going back to the first of May 2000.

Clement went to the bank and after some research discovered other discrepancies.

The parish’s outside auditor came in and confirmed Clement’s suspicions that there were seven deposits totaling nearly $60,000 that had not been made.

The billing clerk under suspicion was suspended, and under questioning confessed to taking the money and tried to make restitution.

The clerk was only able to return $37,000, mostly in checks. The remainingamount was about $6,700 in cash and $16,000 in checks.

Clement said, “My assumption is that the employee was holding on to the checks hoping to make good on them sometime in the future.”The employee was fired Thursday.

Clement said that it is up to the district attorney’s office and Parish President Nickie Monica if charges would be brought against the former parish employee.

“These are public funds, ” said Clement, “and the parish needs to be made good on this.”Clement wants to assure the public that anyone who paid their utility bill between June and July has been credited.

Clement said, “There will not be any disconnections or inconvenience to the customer.”

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