BLOG: How Did A County Employee Steal $150,000 Without The Auditor Noticing?

Bryan Dubois
Oct 14, 2010

 

That was the best rapid fire question from the SHS auditor candidate's debate last week.  You can watch the entire thing below, or scroll past it and read a long and boring collection of real-time notes I took while watching it myself:

 

Thank you to the staff of the Sandusky Register for providing the Erie County candidate debates on-demand.   Making voting decisions are much easier when you have the information at your fingertips like this.  Kudos to the SR.

The following are my kinda boring/opinionated notes from the auditor's debate at SHS.  Overall, I think Jeffrey won.  He sounded more in command of the subject matter and made some pretty strong points to which Paul really had no good answer. 

2:00 Jeffrey: (to the students) It's very important for you to watch where the money is going and to ask questions.  (Good point - and that's the purpose of the auditor -- watching money.  Nice to see this point made to HS government students...) Paul: "There's no preconceived notions in the auditor's office."  Huh?  Where did that come from?  No context to even figure out what he's talking about.  Sounds like he's trying to fend off an existing perspective that there actually are preconceived notions in the auditor's office. 4:00  -- Paul runs through how he came to be county auditor.  (Paul refers to his job with the auditor as a 'total career change.'  Eh...okay.) 9:15  Jeffrey:  "Auditor is check and balance on all other departments."  In short, auditor accounts for funds.  Believes most important thing right now is to re-evaluate property value.  We have holes in our system that are not addressing the needs of the county.  11:00  Jeffrey talks about taking responsibility for the performance of the office.  Wow, that's refreshing to hear. 12:00  Jeffrey says there are documented problems.  Some property values supposedly haven't changed in 10 to 15 years.  Wants everybody's taxes and property values to be consistent across the board. 13:00  Paul begins to explain functions of auditor -- real estate / financial side (actually handling money, collecting, paying bills, making payments)  -- and then he's......kinda.....trailing off.....Paul says he's just following Ohio Revised Code when he decides valuations.  This must be his defense of Jeffrey's accusation about failing to re-appraise properties for such a long time.  Jeffrey folds arms.  Looks like he wants to pounce on the dude.  Ha. 15:00  Paul says that there's a misconception that real estate values have dropped 20 to 30% "at.....some....point...."   (Eh, isn't that true?  Haven't real estate values dropped, eh, lately?  I'm sure I've heard that somewhere in the past couple of months.)  Well Mr. Paul had a paper from the Ohio Department of Taxation that said there were no changes of real estate value in 2009.  [pfffft....yeah, right] 16:00  Jeffrey really really really wants to respond to Paul's theory....Westerhold goes to student's question instead.  Nooo!!   Give the mic back to Jeffrey!! HS student:  "You'll make 68,000 a year.  Do you plan on giving a little portion of your salary back to the community?"  Paul and Jeffrey both answer yes. HS student asks tax spending related question -- Jeffrey explains that auditor's job is to account for money, not make decision on how the money is spent. 23:00 Westerhold beams from most accurately guessing how much tax money is collected in Erie County.  Congrats Matt.  You win....nothing.  But that was cute. 26:00  HS student:  "What do you want to accomplish in the next 4 years if elected?"   Paul:  Revaluation of properties.  (Hey, don't bother bro.  According to you and your "piece of paper" no changes have occurred.  Why start now?) 28:00  Jeffrey's gonna get back to Paul's point about property valuations not changing.  Jeffrey characterizes Paul's claim as 'kinda misleading.'  Paul folds hands and gives the old 'aw crap' look at the camera.   Jeffrey continues:  The state issues guidelines - they don't say that every property value in your county has remained unchanged. 30:00 Paul offers rebuttal.  Eh...kinda weak answer.  Cites specific property sales that support his theory.  Well, the other side can do the same.  I'd say that making a claim that property values - overall - have not changed in the county is not something you can defend by citing a few examples.  Anyone who buys or sells a house in this area knows it's not true.  Jeffrey is fiddling with his hands.  He really wants to talk about this! 32:00  Jeffrey gets pretty heated about this.  Ooh...starts getting into "perception is reality" good government talk.... 36:00  Audience member has mic.  Starts talking about valuation anomalies in Erie County.   For Paul to accept any more questions on this is to admit that he's wrong that property values haven't changed.  Really dumb mistake for him to make, politically speaking. 40:00  Still going back and forth on property values.  Ooh, now Paul is implying that the auditor can't assess a property's value until it sells.  Huh? 45:00  HS Student:  How can the county save more money?  By raising revenue or cutting expenses?  Jeffrey's main point is to examine expenses. Cut expenses.  Paul says it's important to make sure you have basic services to attract businesses.

Rapid Fire:

Question:  How did the employee from the Treasurer's office steal $150,000 and remain undetected by the auditor's office?

Paul:  It was a computer problem that prevented us from catching on.  We did catch her eventually though.

Jeffrey:  Computer system was contributing factor - not the cause.  In 36 years of accounting experience I have never had a checkbook that didn't balance.  Never had an audit that wasn't perfectly clean.  I do not understand how you cannot see that $150,000 was missing until somebody told you.

Ouch.  Paul got toasted on that one.

Jeffrey 1, Paul 0.

Comments

Pete

Pfft. Democrats have been ripping off the people of this state for so long, they didn't notice such a small amount. And such theft is expected from them. Look at Cuyahoga County. If Russo or Demoron was running today the sheeple in that county would elect them again

denny

Mr. Paul says he is following the State of Ohio rules in setting property values.  In the last reappraisal my cottage was for sale with a licensed realtor, listed on the multiple listing in Erie county for $81,000.00 less than he valued it.  I appeared before him and explained this and was turned down.  Almost two years later and a trip to Columbus, not only by me but by a county attorney and an appraisor, they lowered the valuation by $101,000.00 to the actual market value.  The lower amount is was  still $5000.00 more than the actual sale price.    It should not have been necessary to go to the expense for both me and the county to go to Columbus.  It seems impossible to me to set the alleged market value higher than the listed price but Mr. Paul seemed to have no problem with this.

Denny

Darkhorse

How the theft in the treasurer's  office happened is beyond my comprehension.  If happens when you don't implement the right procedures to avoid theft in the first place. Fantozzi has the gull to rip into the guilty party.  I think a lot of this falls on Fantozzi's shoulders.  COMMON SENSE could have fixed all the deficiencies that were sighted by the auditors.  It is called being fully responsible for the job you were elected in to do. 

outsider

 Both these gentlemen are classic bureaucrats. All talk and no action. They have only one boss and that's their political party. No specific answers and no specific direction. County politics at it's best.

Pundit

 Way to go Dubious! You proved your point: Jeffry is an arrogant jerk and Paul is a befuddled nice guy.

Who would you rather have to deal with on a property tax appeal?

The theft started before Paul came into office, and his office did catch her. He did everything right. Again and again you go for the cheap shot. 

As far as the property tax values go it is open to interpretation and spin especially when you attempt to view the county as a whole. You can latch on to your sides Facts, but the other side can spin the stats another way. Most people statewide who ask for a reduction through appeal get it, don't have stats on Erie County.

The main Fact is that the Auditor is going to run things the way the state commands. Jeffery is trying to spread the notion that he has some special conservative way to run the Auditor's office which is a joke. He would do things exactly the same as Paul, so this election is essentially meaningless.

My radical solution: eliminate the Auditor's office altogether. If its only function is to monitor contractors, just straight hire the auditing firms and have a review board at the state level. A lot of functions don't need to be preformed at the county level so we should get rid of a few county wide offices. Do we need a Treasurer that's elected? Seriously! 

 

 

outsider

 Amen to both your radical ideas.

Bryan Dubois

Pundit,

Why did you just offer a 225 word opinion on the matter if you believe the election is meaningless? 

Kimo

 

The VALUE of any property is what someone will pay for it. If someone pays $143,251.00 for a home, why are the taxes based on an appraisal of $134,621.00? The value was set by the purchaser; this is what he/she thought the house was worth, base the taxes on that amount immediately. How can the new buyer argue with that appraisal? It was set by him/her. Let us take it a step farther. If two homes in the same area have the same value, should the school tax be based on property value, or the number of ankle biters that live in the home? Is it fair that a retired couple that never had children pay the same school tax as the couple with six kids? How about we base the school tax on the number of ankle biters that live at that address? Would a “conservative” draw the conclusion that “taxing” someone to improve the life of others is stealing?
taxpayer80

Erie County Auditor, Thomas Paul is out of touch with current property values, or perhaps he purposely overvalues target properties to enable the county to collect more tax money. In 2007, his office arbitrarily increased the value of my small 2 bedroom condo by $13,850.00; I protested, but Mr. Paul arrogantly increased my taxes regardless of the documented proof that I submitted showing the Board of Revision that my condo was already assessed at it's current value. This year I again protested. A condo, the same model as mine, currently is on the market at $119,750 which is $16,000 less than I paid for my unit in 2003. After increasing my property to a false value of $143,850 in 2007, in 2010 it's value is now a minimum of $24,000 overvalued. Thomas Paul, JoDee Fantozz and Mike Bixler at the Board of Revision deigned to lower it by only $9,000. It is now valued only $250.00 less than what I paid for it in 2003 in spite of the fact that the 2009/2010 market value is only $115,000 to $120,000. and possibly less. There were practically no sales at all in this complex in 2009. I am being over taxed and upon checking the tax roles find that much more expensive properties are assessed much lower than their current market value of their real estate. Mr. Paul quoted 2 sales in my condo complex; one that was sold in 2008 before the bottom fell out which had an additional room, adding 200 square feet more than my unit. Another, he misstated as having LESS square footage than mine, comparing a much larger 3 bedroom unit which had been completely gutted and renovated against my "no frills" 2 bedroom unit. That unit had originally listed at over $175,000 and sold for $154,000. Mr. Paul made a written statement to me that these two sales were "proof" that my area's value had held. Property values in this complex have dropped anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000 in value. Mr. Paul is supposed to know the facts but unfortunately he does not know or does not make any effort to find out. According to information given to me by Mr. Paul's opponent, Mr. Jeffery, Erie County uses outside appraisers who are brought in under contract; their "appraisal" consists of only walking around a neighborhood and checking to see if there has been any new structure added to a building. That's the "extent" of their appraisal. Having taken appraisal courses, this does not meet the requirements of an appraisal. A vote for Mr. Paul is a vote for continued unfair property valuation.