I-TEAM: Allendale forensic audit finds extravagant spending, missing receipts and more

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 6:58 PM EDT
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ALLENDALE, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Extravagant spending. Missing receipts. A question of possible fraud – and is it criminal? It’s a storyline playing with your tax dollars on both sides of the river. The I-Team follows the money tonight from Augusta to Allendale.

In Richmond County commissioners vote Thursday on whether a forensic audit should be ordered.

Those in favor want to know if the mayors office or other city departments have misused credit cards paid for by you. Our recent I-Team investigation exposed Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis charged $70,000 in the last 18 months.

While in Allendale County, the I-Team just obtained confidential state documents that point to widespread fraud for more than a decade. Liz Owens continues her investigation into a county that is close to broke and tonight she has new answers as to why.

The forensic audit is like a book. It found at least 45 bank accounts in Allendale – a city of only 10,000 people. 71,000 DMV stickers are missing from car taxes – yes 71,000. Money is unaccounted for nearly everywhere from the sheriff’s office to the clerk of court. And we’ve confirmed a forensic audit like this can be used as evidence in criminal court.

Years of unanswered questions followed by months of silence finally came to an end at an emergency meeting called by the Chairman of Allendale County Council Tuesday night. Mr. Burkett your chance to be on the hot seat.

But it’s the sheriff and clerk of courts of Allendale County who are sitting on the hot seat now after an accounting firm revealed the results of the forensic audit. What we found is the sheriff had two accounts, a drug fund and a petty cash fund controlled by the sheriff. There were deposits in the bank account unaccounted for, and we couldn’t link them to any court proceedings.

The I-Team obtained a full copy of the report which also shows sheriff Tom Carter also withdrew more than $5,000 in cash last year without an explanation. The sheriff told us he couldn’t find the receipts used the money to purchase office equipment. As far as the drug money not matching up with court proceedings, he said that’s because the cases haven’t gone to court yet.

The audit also raised questions as to why another elected official Clerk of Court Elain Sabb gave Christmas bonuses totaling $13,195 “Paid from the discretionary fund to the clerk’s department including a bonus to the clerk herself.”

These were not accounted for in the payroll system and not on their W2s, it was at the direction of the clerk and signed off by the treasurer.

Gerzell Chaney resigned from her position as treasurer two weeks ago before the results of the forensic audit became public and before council discovered DMV vehicle tag stickers missing from her office.

“We contacted DMV and based on their accounting of things and this is what DMV says - there should be 71,000 thousand stickers there is 300 in the office,” said Mitchell. ”Good God.”

71,000 missing in a county of less than 9,000 people.

“What that shows based on what the DMV told us they haven’t received accounting on those decals,” said Mitchell. “The reason they have them under lock and key and they have serial numbers is for that purpose nobody can take them and act like they are paying their taxes and they aren’t.”

“So in Allendale County, we have 71,000 unaccounted for?” said Gooding.

“Yes sir,” said Mitchell.

The results of the forensic audit found deposits to withdrawals to work orders and receipts, all unaccounted for.

If you look at the general ledger it makes absolutely no sense. Accounts, bank accounts, not in the general ledger. Nothing balances. The forensic audit also raised questions about why the county has 45 bank accounts. And why the clerk herself has nine accounts with sole power over them. It also confirmed problems the I-Team uncovered in our previous investigation: unpaid county employee payroll taxes and state funds withheld from Allendale County schools.

What the auditors say is this isn’t something that just happened in the last couple years, it’s been going on for the last 10-13 years. Making it nearly impossible for accountants to track down every dollar. There could be fraud still in the county undiscovered we can’t guarantee we can uncover all the fraud no way to do that.

Unlike annual audits, this forensic audit can be used in court to pursue criminal charges. So far we have not heard of any investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing, what we do know is that the treasurer resigned and state leader’s replaced her husband John Chaney as magistrate judge in Allendale County last week.

So for people at home wondering, what is the difference between a forensic audit like this in Allendale versus and the annual audit that Richmond County has on the table tomorrow?

Annual audits are mandated yearly by the state. That’s nothing new. It can find financial discrepancies but it can’t go deep enough to tell you where missing money is going. We looked at Augusta’s annual report and it does have discrepancies. Allendale’s annual audit flagged missing money for more than a decade. But only this forensic audit can uncover the source and depth of the problem. That’s why they are so expensive but can be so important.

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