Some welfare recipients may be improperly receiving benefits because of record-keeping lapses at the state agency administering the program, according to a legislative auditor’s report released Monday.

The auditor also noted improper financial controls that allowed theft of more than $150,000 by former employees of the agency’s audit division, as well as five employees who received $43,529 in improper benefits from agency-administered programs.

The legislative audit covered activities of the state Department of Children and Family Services during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“For the third consecutive year, DCFS did not have all required ‘work verification’ documentation for clients receiving benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (welfare) program,” the auditor said.

The auditor said the lapse could potentially subject the department to financial penalties from the federal government.

In addition, for the second consecutive year, DCFS did not have “complete eligibility and related documentation for clients receiving benefits,” the auditor said. “These exceptions increase the risk that clients may receive benefits to which they are not entitled and could result in DCFS having to repay the funds to the federal grantor.”

DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier did not specifically concur or disagree with the findings and recommendations the auditor made for corrective action.

However, Sonnier wrote in an audit response that the small samplings — a review of 25 case files in each case — were not indicative of the work performed by agency employees. The missing documents may have been available when initial determinations were made, Sonnier said.

But the auditor said the test sampling indicated “several thousand cases may not be properly documented.” In addition, the auditor said no evidence was presented that the documents had existed during the review process.

Sonnier said the agency through “routine reviews” noted “suspicious activity” that led to the theft investigation and subsequent charges against audit division employees.

“The department will actively pursue repayment of these funds,” Sonnier wrote. “Further, the department will continue its efforts to strengthen its employee oversight, including independent monitoring” of the agency’s audit section.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .