Utility district audit finds fraud, abuse of public funds

Powell-Clinch Utility District audit finds fraud, abuse of public funds

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LAKE CITY (WATE) - The former district president of the Powell-Clinch Utility District used more than $95,000 in public funds for himself, according to a state comptroller's investigation.

Del Roberts resigned as president while the audit was being conducted.

The report, released Monday, details how Roberts used a district credit card for expenses related to a Carnival Cruise, a Disney World vacation, a medical procedure, several personal items and college tuition.

Investigators found Roberts used the credit card for personal purchases dating back to January 2005 under the general category "employee accounts receivable."

Between January 2008 and January 2010, Roberts reimbursed the district less than $1,750 for his expenses.

The district has paid for nearly all of his credit card expenses, which total $79,816.

Roberts tried to have the amount he charged reduced by asking personnel to write-off or remove more than $17,000 from the books, according to the report.

Roberts also tried to sell $20,000 worth of accumulated sick leave back to the utility district, which would be a violation of policy.

Richard McIntosh has been interim president of the district since Roberts resigned in May.

"I don't understand that. I can't defend his actions and I won't try to," said Roberts.

The report also details how Roberts mislead the district's board of commissioners, telling them  $31,000 of his expenses were because his wife went with him on business.

However, utility records revealed that a majority of the personal charges had nothing to do with his wife's travel. The balance of the charges was actually almost $70,000 at the time. 

Due to the false information, the board agreed to give Roberts a one-time $20,000 bonus to cover those expenses.

Roberts also took money from the utility district by requesting more than $4,600 in travel advances and a pay advance of $1,836. The district was never reimbursed for those payments. 

Auditors also found that the Roberts ordered an undocumented and improperly approved $6,790 adjustment to one customer's account.

Greg Pressnell is one of 15,000 customers, many who struggle thinking about how to pay their heat bill as winter approaches.

"While I struggle to get my bills paid, he's out having a vacation. It's aggravating because I'd like to take that money and take a vacation," said Pressnell.

Among its other findings, the state report holds district commissioners responsible for increasing their own pay in violation of limits established by the state Legislature.

Auditors also gave examples of instances when district officials charged a total of $2,600 for three meals on the utility credit card, and handed out at least five travel advances of over $1,000. Each instance had no documentation showing the funds were used for district purposes.

The utility district services areas of Roane, Campbell and Anderson counties.

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