Employee accused of stealing $50K from Morristown shelter

Employee accused of stealing $50K from Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society

Posted:
The Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society (Source: Comptroller's office) The Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society (Source: Comptroller's office)
Dogs at the shelter. (Source: Comptroller's office) Dogs at the shelter. (Source: Comptroller's office)
"When I think about it, I get a little angry. It's public funds used by an agency that does great work," said Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain. "When I think about it, I get a little angry. It's public funds used by an agency that does great work," said Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain.

By JILL MCNEAL
6 News Anchor/Reporter

MORRISTOWN (WATE) - An employee at a Hamblen County animal shelter is accused of stealing more than $50,000 in adoption fees and other funds.

Investigators with the state comptroller's office found that an employee altered receipts to conceal the theft of $51,130.

The employee tampered with the shelter's computer system, backdating receipts so they wouldn't be included in daily reports.

The employee was later fired.

Investigators found weaknesses in the Humane Society's accounting and record-keeping procedures, which made the theft easier to conceal. 

The Morristown-Hamblen Humane Society is an independent non-profit that operates the animal shelter and has a contract with the city and county.

"It is very important that there is an appropriate amount of oversight when public funds are being accepted, recorded and spent or deposited," Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said.

"Putting too many responsibilities in the hands of one individual without that kind of oversight can create situations that are ripe for fraud or abuse," he continued. "It is very unfortunate in this case that money that could have been used to help stray and abused animals in Hamblen County isn't available for that purpose because of this."

The shelter employees a half dozen people and has an annual budget of $362,000, mostly from city and county taxpayers.

"When I think about it, I get a little angry. It's public funds used by an agency that does great work," said Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain.

He called the state comptroller's office to investigate after a tip from another shelter worker. That was more than a year and a half ago.

The comptroller just released his report Wednesday, but without the accused former employee's name or position. It states the employee was fired in September of 2011.

The animal shelter houses about 75 cats and dogs at a time. Investigators say the stolen money came from adoption fees and donations.

"That's heartbreaking. What if he was in one of those cages and he depended on somebody to give him his food and water and he didn't have that, and these animals had to be put down because they didn't have what they needed?" said Rhoda Morgan, who was at the shelter Wednesday adopting a dog.

Brittain said the shelter did have to go without certain supplies, even medication. He said its possible more animals lost their lives as well.

He couldn't say why it took so long for anyone to notice the missing money.

Shelter employees told 6 News they aren't allowed to comment.

The chair of the shelter's board of directors, Gean Ann Sing, also said she had no comment, but did state in the comptroller's report that now internal controls have been implemented to ensure assets are safeguarded against loss.

District Attorney Berkeley Bell said he will ask the TBI to investigate the missing money before he decides whether to file any charges against the former employee.

Karen Marquand, a board member of Small Breed Rescue of East Tennessee, had some dealings with the shelter at the time in question.

"Hearing that someone from within stole money from a shelter that tries so hard with what I am sure is a very austere budget to save as many lives as possible is terrible. It is so disheartening to the many people who work so hard as volunteers and paid staff to keep animals alive long enough to get them adopted or to rescue. It is really unimaginable that someone from within could do that knowing their actions would mean less money for shelter operations which in turn meant fewer lives could be saved. The shelter definitely seemed like they had an atmosphere of wanting to save lives," Marquand said.

The comptroller's full report is available on the state's website.

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