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A financial analyst at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind (USDB) skimmed at least $67,000 from school accounts over four years, according to a report released Tuesday by the Utah State Auditor's Office.
State Auditor John Dougall said the theft was brought to his attention by USDB Superintendent Joel Coleman, who had noticed accounting irregularities after being named superintendent in 2013.
Dougall credited Coleman and his staff for working to address weaknesses in the handling of school funds, which led to the discovery of improprieties by a former employee, who was not identified in the audit.
"If it hadn't been for their new procedures, I'm not sure how long this would have kept going on undetected," Dougall said.
According to the audit, an employee of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind used unauthorized credit cards to make and reimburse personal purchases.
"She was also purchasing gift cards," Dougall said, "which is a way to launder money."
Records for those purchases were falsified and diverted away from administrators, Dougall said, leading to several years' worth of school records being missing or incomplete.
Auditors were unable to prove that records had been destroyed, Dougall said, but "you don't just lose that many records."
He said the stolen funds include a combination of taxpayer dollars appropriated to the school and private donations, and likely exceed the $67,093 that auditors were able to identify.
"We believe there is a strong likelihood that the theft occurred even before the period of time we looked at," Dougall said.
Coleman on Tuesday described the theft as "disgusting."
The Ogden City Police Department and the Utah attorney general's office are aware of the theft, Coleman said.
"We're going to pursue this as much as we can," Coleman said. "I just can't even imagine stealing money from deaf and blind children."
Coleman said employee credit cards have been discontinued in favor of more limited purchase cards. And donations to the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind a roughly $1 million account have been moved into the state finance system for greater oversight.
"Even though it started before my time, it still just makes me sick," Coleman said. "I don't want USDB to have a black eye like that."
For three months in 2014, Coleman was asked to serve as interim state superintendent over Utah's public school system in addition to his duties as superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. Coleman was also asked to provide temporary management at the Utah State Office of Rehabilitation, which at the time was overseen by the state school board.
He said the theft of USDB funds appears to have escalated while he and other administrators were splitting their time between the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind and other areas of Utah education.
"This person kind of stepped it up during those times it looks like, from the pattern of behavior," he said.
Dougall agreed that the period when administrators were stretched thin may have contributed to vulnerabilities. But he added that fault lies first and foremost with the individual who stole funds.
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