Earlier this week, Bishop Police Chief Chris Carter confirmed that his officers are investigating the suspected theft of public funds from the Inyo County Welfare Office in Bishop. Now, Health and Human Services Director Jean Turner has issued a press release to say employees detected irregularities and that a “substantial amount of money” was taken.
Turner’s press release says that last week, county workers discovered what she calls irregularities pointing to a potential theft of public funds in the Social Services Division. Turner said, “Our suspicions were immediately reported to the Bishop Police Chief, District Attorney and Inyo County Sheriff, as well as the State Department of Social Services, and a criminal investigation is underway to get to the bottom of the issue.”
Turner acknowledged that the public and the County want to know how an employee could have embezzled welfare funds “in spite of the many internal controls and external audits performed by independent accounting firms and other government agencies.”
Turner says she can not provide detailed information because of the ongoing criminal investigation. She does say, “Steps were taken to ensure this emerging scheme to defraud the public was not continued, and the County commends the diligence of those employees who brought this situation to light.”
Turner also sent out a list of Frequently Asked Questions on this apparent crime. You can check it out on our website. In that release, Turner says officials don’t know whether others were involved in the theft. She said they also won’t know how much money is involved until the investigation is complete, but she does say, “it is a substantial amount of money.”
Turner says that the method of the theft is also part of the investigation and that the money “appears to have been taken from the State-allocated funds for public assistance.” The statement also says officials do not know what the suspects may have done with the money. Turner says that 18 employees work in the public assistance department of Social Services and that the budget of that department is $1 million annually. Asked the identify of the suspect or suspects, Turner said she can’t reveal that at this time.
Some Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: How many employees are involved, and what is their employment status? Who are they? Where are they from? What are their job titles? Etc.
A: Because of the on-going criminal investigation and because this also is a personnel matter, I cannot give you this information. As soon as the criminal investigation concludes, the investigators will be able to provide much more information.
Q: Are there other employees involved?
A: We don’t know whether others were involved, but expect the investigation to answer that question. Most of our employees are dedicated, ethical workers serving the public good, like the workers who reported the problem.
Q: How much money was embezzled?
A: We won’t know how much money is involved until the investigation is completed, but it is a substantial amount of money. It would be irresponsible to speculate how much money was taken until the investigation is completed.
Q: If you say substantial amount, what is the minimum?
A: Again, it wouldn’t be appropriate or responsible to put out numbers that have not been confirmed or completely tallied.
Q: How was the money embezzled?
A: The method of theft is part of the ongoing investigation, and you will be able to ask the Bishop Police and District Attorney about those issues when the investigation is completed and if charges are brought. We are very committed to finding out how this happened in spite of numerous internal Departmental and County security measures as well as outside audits performed by independent state and federal auditors.
Q: Where in the system were they embezzling?
A: Again, we are very limited in what we can tell you. Only that the money appears to have been taken from the State-allocated funds for public assistance.
Q: Do you know what the employee did with the money?
A: No, we do not know what the suspects may have done with the money.
Q: How did you find out about the theft?
A: Employees reported seeing irregularities and reported it last week.
Q: Who was he/she?
A: I can’t tell you who the workers were both because it is a personnel matter, and because it is related to the criminal investigation that is ongoing.
Q: Will you seek restitution?
A: Restitution is an issue that is a long way off, but we will absolutely be asking that question of the District Attorney or anyone else who may be able to help us recover the taxpayers’ money.
Q: Why are we still paying employees who stole public money? Why haven’t you fired them?
A: We are working with investigators and County Counsel regarding these issues and will take strong and appropriate action.
Q: How many employees in Department/Division? On the 133 HHS employees, there are 18 who work in the public assistance programs.
Q. What is the budgeted public assistance fund and where does that money come from? This is an annual budget of approximately $1 million and is a combination of federal and state funds sent to the County. The funds are sent to the County from the State and can be used only for public assistance to eligible County residents.