Blanchard Library creates new books amid investigation of missing funds
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula News
Published: September 04, 2013
By Peggy Kelly
Santa Paula Times
Blanchard Community Library hired a new bookkeeper, and trustees learned that a fresh set of books has been created to allow the library to “move forward” amid an investigation into a possibly missing $750,000.
At the August 27 meeting, Interim Director Ned Branch recommended that Stephen McFadden, a Santa Paula-based CPA with experience in public agencies, be retained as the library bookkeeper.
Branch’s report noted McFadden is “familiar with accounting for revenue from property taxes and preparing the documentation for Special Assessments that has to be provided to the Assessor’s Office. He is also familiar with CalPERS benefit reporting and the annual reporting requirements of the State Controller’s Office for Special Districts.”
Branch told trustees that upon board approval of the budget, McFadden’s $800 a month fee would be allocated under professional services for bookkeeping and accounting, excluding audit costs.
When it came to the audit, Branch, appointed interim director July 1, said he has spoken with the BCL auditor regarding the 2010-2012 audit: “The library is supposed to have an audit biannually,” but Branch said the cutoff ended more than a year ago.
“We’re behind schedule,” he said before he read a brief report noting that the auditor estimates the audit will be completed by mid-September. “However, there may be discrepancies between the bank balances as confirmed by the banks and the balances in the library’s accounting system. The auditor and the Interim Director are currently discussing the best approaches to resolve the discrepancies.”
Branch noted, “As a point of information, the auditor indicated that, at the time the engagement letter was presented to the previous director, the fixed price was $5,000 higher than the prior audit because of the poor state of the documentation provided by the library’s bookkeeper.”
Some of the bank records, he added, “hadn’t been reconciled for an extended period of time.”
During public comment Carol Hardison said, “My question is: exactly what discrepancies? I think that was partly answered by the bookkeeper not following through,” but Hardison asked if the issue is one of “negligence, fraud, embezzlement; what are we talking about?”
Branch said that after discussions with the auditor, “to keep Blanchard operating, we essentially created a new set a books, will move forward with a clean set of books ... with that done now we can deal” with issues that occurred previously.
When it comes to the resolution of the financial irregularities Hardison asked, “You’ll let the public know?”
“It’s the public’s money,” said Branch.
In recent weeks the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office confirmed but would not give particulars about its investigation of $750,000 in financial irregularities, funds BCL Board President Linda Spink announced earlier at the August 27 meeting appeared to be missing.
Spink’s statement noted BCL attorneys and “other forensic experts” are evaluating the situation on behalf of the library and efforts would be made to recover “any and all losses that may exist.
“Appropriate law-enforcement agencies had been advised of the matter and are handling their own separate investigations,” read Spink.
Ventura County Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Swartz said last week that he could not provide an estimate of when the investigation — launched “late July” — into possible embezzlement would be completed or how long it appeared funds had been missing.
Santa Paula Police Lt. Ishmael Cordero confirmed that the police agency had also investigated the issue, but, “Because of the nature of the case, because it’s a public entity and the amount of money, we just do the initial report and pass on the information to the District Attorney’s Office.
“It’s a lot of money,” said Cordero, “We’re talking quite a bit of money.”
In April after months of rising public criticism and contentious meetings that had started more than a year ago, the board fired Librarian Dan Robles, who had been with BCL for more than 30 years and had volunteered at the library as a teenager.
Sometime in May bookkeeper Tammy Ferguson, who joined BCL in 1993, was no longer employed by the library.