Originally created 02/10/01

Grand Jury requests more security



Random audits and more advanced security measures should be implemented at county tag offices to prevent theft and embezzlement of tax money, according to an interim presentment released Friday by the Richmond County Special Grand Jury.

The report marks the fourth presentment to be released by the jury after meeting for more than a year. Two of the previous presentments examined specific departments in city operations. A January presentment targeted Augusta commissioners, accusing them of divisiveness, incompetence and micromanagement.

"Internal auditing procedures are not adequate to prevent employees from stealing money from the county tag office," grand jurors wrote in the presentment, which was signed shortly before 3 p.m. by Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett. "A substantial amount of money is entrusted to single individuals, with no direct oversight or surprise audits. These practices have been in place for many years and have gone unchallenged."

Jurors' observations were part of a two-page report, examining the city's Tax Assessor and Tax Commissioner offices. Grand jurors heard testimony from employees of both departments, as well as the director of the Motor Vehicle Tag Office, the chairman of the Tax Assessment Board and the city's internal auditor.

The report also referred to a theft that allegedly took place in the county tag office, noting that no internal audits of the office took place until after a possible crime had been identified. Stephanie Lynn Womack, 33, who worked in the Office of the Tax Commissioner's motor vehicle tag department for 11 years, was named Jan. 16 in a 70-count indictment for allegedly stealing money from the tag office between Nov. 15, 1989, and Sept. 14. She is accused of taking more than $121,000 from the office where she had access to computer entries for payments of ad valorem taxes and tag fees and had access to the safe where cash receipts were stored.

Special grand jurors recommended the "thorough review of procedures for handling cash ... to ensure that single employees are not entrusted with exclusive access to cash and records and receipts."

An absence of written rules and procedures in the tax commissioners' office indicates "poor organizational control," as does the practice of not balancing cash drawers at the end of each work day or cross-check paper receipts against computer entries, grand jurors wrote.

Jurors also recommended installing security cameras, conducting surprise audits and rotating employees' duties to ward off crime.

The special grand jury, made up of 23 residents, was empaneled Nov. 29, 1999. The jury consists of 13 men and 10 women. Fourteen jurors are white; nine are black. The jurors range in age from 23 to 78.

Over the past 14 months, numerous city officials have been called to testify and hundreds of government documents have been requested for examination. The officials listed in the grand juror's Feb. 9 presentment on the tax commissioner and tax assessor offices were Interim Chief Tax Assessor Meg Woodward, Tax Commissioner Jerry Saul, Deputy Tax Commissioner North Williamson, Chairman of the Tax Assessment Board Bill Lee, Director of the Motor Vehicle Tag Office Roger Tomlin, Financial Officer for the Tax Commissioner Jack McAdams and the city's internal auditor J.T. Cosnahan of Baird and Company.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.