Former bookkeeper alleged to have stolen $300K from Probate Judge’s office

Published 4:06 pm Friday, November 2, 2018

LAFAYETTE – A former bookkeeper with the Chambers County Probate Judge’s Office has been ordered to pay back nearly $300,000 in misplaced funds by the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts.

In a report released by the examiner’s office, it was determined that former bookkeeper Rene Hunt Welch may have deposited less money into the bank than she recorded. It was found that she is responsible for under depositing $299,861.68 from Nov. 14, 2014 to Oct. 11, 2017.

“The former bookkeeper of the Judge of Probate’s office was responsible for deposits where the amount of cash recorded on the deposit slips by the bookkeeper, and deposited into the bank, was less than the amount of cash collected by the clerks and verified by the bookkeeper,” the report says.

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A letter was sent to Welch requesting that she pay back the money, according to the report. That report also says that at a meeting with the Chief Examiner, Welch failed to show just cause as to why the charges should be dropped and her claim to not pay the charges was denied.

Chambers County Probate Judge Brandy Easlick said she takes her job as keeper of public funds very seriously and will prosecute Welch to the fullest extent of the law.

“The Chambers County Probate Office has been working in concert with the Office of Public Examiners for almost a year regarding an investigation of a former employee who allegedly misappropriated funds,” Easlick’s statement read. “Probate Judge Brandy Easlick has worked with and continues to work with the Office of Public Examiners and their auditors to make sure the Probate Office is in full compliance, not only with the investigation, but with implementing any additional safeguards needed in the probate office to ensure this does not occur in the future.”

Easlick is currently running for reelection for the Chambers County Probate Judge office and is matched up against Valley City Councilman Paul Story.

The bookkeeper is responsible for verifying the amount of money reported each day is correct and is tasked with correcting any discrepancies that come up. That position combines all the money collected over the course of a work day and prepares a deposit slip for the bank, then takes the money to the bank.

“Numerous instances were noted where the amount of cash recorded on the deposit slip by the bookkeeper and (the cash) deposited into the bank was less than the amount of cash collected by the clerks and verified by the bookkeeper,” the report reads.

Other findings from the report found several instances in which an employee of the probate’s office transferred a total of $170,000 from a discretionary fund account to the operating account without the knowledge or approval from the probate judge.

The report also said bank account balances were not recorded to a cashbook. Furthermore, the differences between the cashbook and the discrepancies shown were not investigated or resolved in a timely manner.

The Office of Judge of Probate is required to maintain a cashbook summarizing all accounting activity for a month and include all daily collections, how much cash the amount was over or short for the day and the actual bank deposits amount. The findings from the report said the office did not maintain a cash book summarizing the accounting activity, therefore collections and disbursements were not balanced.