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Court audit finds more than $6K lost

During 2016, the city of Vicksburg’s court services department lost more than $6,000 from one area of fines collections, according to a forensic accountants, report on an audit performed on one activity of the department’s services.

Court services collects fines assessed by Municipal Court for traffic and misdemeanor offenses.

According to the report by accountant Donna Ingram, at least $6,059.44 in fines deposited through a “drop box” was missing during her audit.

Court services and the Municipal Court are located in the Vicksburg Police Department.

The drop box allows people to pay their fines after hours by bringing money to the front desk of the police department, where a desk officer places the fine in a envelop, seals it, deposits it in the locked drop box that can only be opened by a court services employee, and gives the person a receipt. The envelopes are collected by court services employees the next business day.

Ingram presented her report at a meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and a special committee appointed in January by Mayor George Flaggs Jr. to examine and audit the city’s court services operations in the wake of allegations of mishandling of funds by court services employees.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Wednesday directed Municipal Judge Toni Terrett and court services director Janice Carter to implement a series of committee recommendations to improve efficiency and security in collecting fines assessed by the court.

The board in February hired Ingram to perform an audit of court services. When she began the audit, Ingram said, the volume of information involved was so great that it would have been hard to complete the audit in the amount of time allowed under her agreement with the board.

She met with the committee, and all parties agreed that because of the time element involved Ingram should concentrate on the area where court services was most vulnerable — the drop box.

She said, however, the drop box is not the only way money is paid to court services.

“From 8 (a.m.) to 4:30 (p.m.), there’s two windows over in court services that people come and pay, and they may pay by credit card, they may pay by check, they may also pay cash,” she said. “That is the other access of moneys that exist in court services in addition to the drop box.”

She concentrated on the drop box, Ingram said, “But in asking questions and observing, I saw some things that applied to window operations. I incorporated that (in her report).”

“There is the potential for more (missing money),” Ingram said.

Ingram also made a series of recommendations, which Flaggs said the board will examine.

“You have two choices: fix the system going forward and evaluate the recommendations that I have, or, second, enhance the system and consider these recommendations going forward, and expand an internal review of the other transactions that I did not get to,” she said.

The committee’s recommendations are based in part on Ingram’s recommendations.

“This will resolve or minimize the loss of funds, particularly after hours,” Flaggs said. “But it’s a work in progress, because I still think we have to do something about any money and community service workers.”

He said the board will examine the recommendation for an internal auditor.

“But it’s something that needs to be done in the future administration,” he said.

4 Continue criminal investigations with Vicksburg police.

4 Hire a long-term, or permanent, internal auditor to do periodic checks of accounts.

“This is something we need for every city department that handles money,” Flaggs said.

“If you can get an internal auditor to go in, and look at not just court services, but my recommendation was the city as whole would benefit,” Ingram said.

The internal auditor, she said, would report directly to the board.

4 Hire additional IT employees to help manage ADSi, the law enforcement software used by the court to record collected fines.

4 More training for front desk personnel.

4 Reduce of eliminate the collection after hours cash payments, by installing a Kiosk in the front lobby of the police station, or consider other electronic collection methods.

“We ought to stop making it easier for the criminals,” Flagg said. “We need to stop handling cash after hours.”

4 Set a deadline for approving the accounting policy drafted by accounting department employee Anna Booth to enhance controls over handling cash.

4 Set up long-term query court files for closed status cases that still have balances.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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