Scathing Audit Closes Chapter on Former Trustee's Tumultuous Tenure

A scathing audit from the Indiana State Board of Accounts sheds light on just how widespread the sloppy book keeping was under the former Ohio Township Trustee, Lorraine Wittenbraker. Among other discrepancies, state auditors found the township incurred thousands of dollars in late fees, penalties and interest payments during Wittenbraker's administration.

The special audit came at the request of current Trustee Chad Bennett, who was elected and began serving his term in January 2015. Two days after taking office, Bennett reported discovering the township was behind on paying penalties, fines and interest on a number of accounts. Additionally, Bennett found that the township was severely behind on its federal payroll tax withholdings.

Auditors then began canvassing the township's financial records in mid-2015.

"I thought I could dig out and get everything taken care of in six months and six months turned into a year and a year turned into two years," Bennett said. "Now that we have our State Board of Accounts audit has been completed, that kind of closes the chapter and it lets us move forward in a positive manner on what we're here to do for the taxpayers."

According to the special investigation report stemming from the year long audit, the township incurred $1906.76 in late fees, finance charges and administrative fees from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. The audit also found that the township paid $5712.81 in sales taxes between January 28, 2011 and January 21, 2015.

Trustees offices are exempt from sales taxes.

"[In your personal finances], if you miss a payment or make an overdraft or finance fee, you can say, 'oh well, I won't do it again," Bennett said. "But on the government side, you can't do that. You're personally responsible for making sure the bills are paid in a timely manner."

Wittenbraker didn't do that, the audit found. Wittenbraker didn't do a lot of things.

According to the audit, the township clerk and township assistant clerks were routinely underpaid in comparison to salaries that were previously approved by the township board. Meanwhile, Wittenbraker was overpaid $22,430.64 in comparison to her approved salary, according to the audit. The overpayments came in the form of reimbursements of health, dental and vision insurance benefits, the audit stated.

The audit also cited troublesome clerical errors.

An overpayment of $165 was made to a vendor. As of September 2016, the refund had not been received. An overpayment of nearly $900 was made to the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, according to the audit. Bennett said that money will be served as a credit if and when the trustee's office makes an unemployment claim.

The audit also determined that W-2s were not issued for the years 2011 and 2012. Quarterly payroll reports were also not submitted to the state in the third and fourth quarters of 2013 and all four quarters in 2014, according to the audit.

"The thing that was the most shocking thing to me was the federal and state taxes that weren't being paid," Bennett said. "When [state auditors] got to the bottom line, it was kind of shocking."

In total, Wittenbraker is on the hook for $53,328.39, including the $13,640 cost to the state for conducting the special audit. She has already reimbursed the trustee's office $5914.74.

"The positive side of everything is that the taxpayers won't be holding the bag," Bennett said. "We're going to get that money paid back to us either from the former trustee or her bonding company."

Every elected official is required by law to be personally bonded. In situations similar to Wittenbraker's, the state can request reimbursement through the elected official's bonding company. The bonding company can, in turn, take action against the elected official.

In the months and years since taking office, Bennett said he, his staff and the township board have implemented numerous internal controls or 'checks and balances' to ensure history doesn't repeat itself. An oversight committee has also been set up so the township board can vett and examine each expense.

"[Six months into my term], one of my assistants came up to me and she said, 'we need to order more checks. You realize that in the first six months you've written more checks than the township wrote the entire last year,'" Bennett said. "I said, 'well, when you pay your bills on time, you're going to write more checks."

A rainy day fund has also been established in addition to a fund specifically dedicated to replacing some of the township's aging firefighting equipment.

"Our township prior to me taking office had not replaced a major fire truck in over ten years," Bennett said. "When they have a 20 year average lifespan and you have 15 trucks in your fleet, it's pretty simple math to figure out you are behind the eight ball."

Bennett had to turn in his turnout gear before becoming township trustee. But the former Newburgh fire chief hopes this latest fire -- perhaps the most frustrating one of his career -- has finally been extinguished.

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