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Wednesday, 11 November 2009 13:37

Angling for Sam’s Club discount, Swain jailer uses credit card to buy TV

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Misuse of county credit cards by a Swain jailer has prompted tighter controls on charge card use across all departments.

Earlier this year, a jailer purchased a $500 or $600 big-screen TV with the county’s credit card at Sam’s Club, said County Manager Kevin King.

The officer came back from a shopping trip for prison supplies with the TV, saying that she would reimburse the county for the purchase. Even though the detention officer followed through on that promise, she was fired.

Finance Director Vida Cody said a supervisor should have informed all employees about the county’s policy on making purchases, but Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran said it shouldn’t take training to realize that buying a TV with county money is wrong.

“Common sense would tell you that’s not allowed,” said Cochran.

The out-of-line purchase was flagged in the county’s annual audit but was not serious enough to launch a full-on fraud audit. Auditor Eric Bowman simply called for better internal controls so the misuse would not escalate into a bigger problem.

That misuse of the credit card was “one of many,” according to finance director Vida Cody. Employees in the Sheriff’s Department have also exceeded their meal allowance of $34 a day for three meals and made work-related purchases of more than $100 without getting prior approval by the finance department.

The finance officer is supposed to approve every purchase over $100 to ensure there’s enough money in the budget for it. An exception, however, could be made for emergency purchases, like repairs on a squad car that has broken down.

Now, all county employees can only buy supplies online on the Sam’s Club Web site, rather than at the physical store. Before hitting submit on that online order, though, Cody must check a printout of the purchase to ensure there’s enough money budgeted for the buy. After Cody approves the order and the employee makes the purchase, Cody must compare the printout of the receipt against the original printout.

To help decrease spending in the face of a budget crisis, Cochran said his department is also cutting down on travel expenses, only making trips when they are “absolutely” necessary.

Cody said no matter what, it is difficult to have complete control over the county’s credit cards, as employees may not always pay attention to how much they’re spending.

“It’s easy to want to use those cards when you have it on hand and go over your limits,” said Cody. “You could operate on trust, but people are human too ... The economy is bad. People might do things they might normally not do.”

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