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After the Emery County treasurer unwittingly wired $38,700 to a scam artist posing as a county commissioner, a state audit found he deviated from established policy and called it an "unfortunate experience."
The report, led by the Office of the Utah State Auditor, was released Tuesday and details "weaknesses" that made the county susceptible to the scam.
On June 13, Treasurer Steve Barton received an email that appeared to be from Emery County Commission Chair Keith Brady spoofing Brady's name and county email address asking for money to pay a consultant in Florida. After exchanging seven emails in a span on 91 minutes, Barton transferred the money, the audit states.
When he did not receive documentation of the transfer, Barton became suspicious. On June 15, Barton contacted the Emery County IT department and county attorney about the scam, and State Auditor John Dougall believes some of the money was recovered. Calls for confirmation to the Emery County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the incident, were not returned Tuesday.
"It was a bogus email, but the treasurer didn't know that," Dougall said.
The scammer, the audit notes, wrote with a sense of urgency, which caused Barton to "deviate from the normal cash disbursement procedures." He did not, Dougall added, seek approval from the county auditor, which is the standard measure of checks-and-balances in the office.
And because he "trusted [Brady] would provide the supporting documentation," Barton also didn't request proof of the transfer until 24 hours after the wiring the money.
The audit recommends that the treasurer seek approval and documentation prior to distributing funds in the future. It also states that Emery County lacks written policies and procedures "establishing controls over cash receipt and disbursement processes," and should develop and adopt more formal guidelines.
In response, Brady wrote to auditors: "We have adequately followed unwritten policies for at least the last 19 years and have never run into this type of problem. We don't believe there are any controls you can put in place that would completely prevent this if the controls are not followed, which is what happened here."
He added, though, that the county will develop new policies.
The audit also points to an inadequate separation of duties, where certain auditors or clerks have access to cash, checks and ledgers that allow them to authorize a complete transaction without review or approval. Barton responded to the audit with several potential fixes, including internal review by the treasurer and deputy treasurer and rotating the responsibility of reconciling bank statements.
Dougall said alerts were sent out to other county governments following the incident, but not before the San Juan County treasurer wired about $48,000 to a similar scam artist also posing as a commissioner. San Juan County Sheriff Rick Eldredge believes that money has not been recovered. San Juan County officials did not, however, request an audit like Emery County, Dougall said.
A news release accompanying the audit "encourages all governmental entities to learn from Emery County's unfortunate experience."