Three-month audit of county health department shows possible money-handling problems

Friday, July 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. (AP) -- The Cherokee County District Attorney's office is reviewing for possible action a three-month investigation into money-handling irregularities at the Cherokee County Health Department.

District Attorney Dianne Barker Harrold confirmed Thursday that her office had received the internal audit from the Oklahoma Department of Health, but she said no charges had been filed.

Nick Slaymaker, assistant general counsel for the state Health Department, said that an employee coming forward with information about possible accounting problems at the Tahlequah office triggered the audit. The investigation was conducted from January through March for fiscal year 1999. It revealed discrepancies in deposits made by a 30-year employee in charge of accounting at the Tahlequah office, a story in the Tulsa World said.

Slaymaker said the 12-page audit pointed to a "violation of policy and state statutes" rather than embezzlement of monies. "What we found was that money appeared to have been taken and then put back into accounts within a couple of days," Slaymaker said. "We're not talking about thousands of dollars here; we're talking in the hundreds and, from what was uncovered, it all appeared to have been put back."

The Health Department's Internal Audit Division found 25 violations of statutes and codes that should have been followed at the Tahlequah office, officials said. There were reports that the bulk of the money-handling problems centered on the Cherokee County Health Department's flu account, but Slaymaker said the irregularities extended to other accounts, including donations.

Slaymaker said the free flu shot program offered by the Health Department at the Tahlequah office was never in jeopardy. The investigation noted that an official account that was to be set up at the Cherokee County Courthouse and used daily for deposits didn't exist. "We now have a process in place to solve the problem," Slaymaker said. "It's hard to say how much money was involved, but we don't believe it was a large amount." Slaymaker said the entire accounting process was the problem, not just flu shot money.