A Pearl River utility clerk who was fired last year has admitted she took more than $4,000 in customer payments for her own use over a 20-month period, according to an investigative audit by state Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera that was released Monday.
Crystal Folse admitted taking cash collected from customers from January 2014 until August 2015, according to a news release that accompanied the audit. She recorded credits to the utility system to conceal the amounts that had not been deposited, the audit said. Folse was fired in September.
The Legislative Auditor’s Office began looking into the matter after getting correspondence from Mayor David McQueen that said the town had discovered criminal behavior on the part of an employee. Town employees had discovered that the amount of collections entered into the utility system’s computer was more than what was in the cash drawer, the audit said.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office investigated and questioned the clerk, who admitted taking the money.
Auditors found that $26,730 in utility payments from customers that had been recorded in the town’s utility system had not been deposited into the bank.
The audit report said Folse “estimated that she took between $4,000 and $4,500” and suggested that others might have taken the rest of the missing money because the cash drawer was never locked.
McQueen said the town plans to press charges against Folse and seek restitution.
“My administration inherited many practices and procedures implemented by the prior administration and which were in place for a long time,” McQueen said in his response to the audit. He said he has been working to correct improper procedures and practices since taking office a year ago.
An earlier investigative audit by Purpera’s office, issued in May 2014, found rampant misspending and other problems in the administration of McQueen’s predecessor, James Lavigne.
Lavigne and Dianne Bennett Hollie, who was the town clerk, were indicted by a grand jury in October 2014. Lavigne, who was defeated that fall in his bid for a seventh term in office, was charged with seven counts: four of malfeasance, one of theft and two of unauthorized use of a movable.
The two pleaded guilty in September and were sentenced to probation.
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