Former Kingston Parks & Rec director spent $19K of city funds on unauthorized purchases, state comptroller says

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Tennessee Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury has released the findings of an investigation into questionable purchases made by the former Kingston Parks & Recreation director.

Through the evaluation of records from July 2016 to January 2019, the state watchdog found that the former director made $19,388 in personal, questionable and undocumented purchases using city funds. The purchases include checks issued to the director and withdrawals from department deposits.

The director, Rick Ross, was hired in 2006 and resigned in January 2019. The findings of the investigation have been sent to Ninth Judicial District Attorney General Russell Johnson, which has three trial courts with jurisdiction in Loudon, Meigs, Morgan and Roane counties.

The director diverted the funds to three bank accounts not maintained by the city, according to the report released Wednesday. During the two-and-a-half-year period, the director had sole control of the three accounts and a debit card tied to these accounts with no oversight from city officials.

Items purchased include food, gift cards and sporting goods which he did not document with itemized receipts or invoices. The charges include checks totaling at least $3,528 written to the director and $1,155 in cash withdrawals.

An excerpt from the Tennessee Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury report into misuse of funds by the former Kingston Director of Parks & Recreation

“The former director’s use of three bank accounts outside of the city’s control allowed him to bypass the city’s budgetary and purchasing procedures,” Comptroller Jason Mumpower said. “The city should ensure its internal controls are strong enough to prevent misappropriation.

“Needless to say, we recommend these three accounts be closed immediately.”

The report also found that the Kingston Parks & Recreation Department had numerous operation and oversight deficiencies. City officials and the director did not or could not provide investigators supporting documentation for most purchases and other withdrawals made by the director from three bank accounts not maintained by the city.

It also found city officials failed to maintain adequate documentation of cash collections from donations and activities such as concession sales or athletic event fees. As a result, investigators couldn’t determine whether all collections went to benefit the city of Kingston or were deposited to city bank accounts.

Kingston City Manager David L. Bolling disputed the deficiencies and said the city was unaware of the checking accounts that Ross controlled.

“We had at that time, and continue to have, purchasing policies in place that all departments follow (submittal of requisitions, approval of purchase orders, etc.),” Bolling said in a statement. “Because former Director Ross had access to funds that we didn’t know about, and therefore had no ability to control, he was able to use those funds at his own discretion and completely avoid the established processes.”

Kingston officials indicated that they have corrected oversight deficiencies, the report concluded.

Bolling said he was made aware of the checking accounts on Jan. 3, 2019 and began an investigation that led to Ross resigning a week later.

The full investigation report is available online at comptroller.tn.gov/office-functions/investigations/find.html.

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