The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 12, 2010

Audit: $108,000 taken from Missouri Veterans Commission

The Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A former employee of the state auditor’s office embezzled nearly $108,000 while working as an accountant for the Missouri Veterans Commission, the state auditor alleged Monday.

Stacy Griffin-Lowery was fired by the Veterans Commission in March 2008 and pleaded guilty three months later to a misdemeanor theft charge. She repaid the state $17,665, the auditor’s office said.

But Missouri Auditor Susan Montee on Monday accused Griffin-Lowery of swiping an additional $90,192 by getting reimbursed for cash advances and purchases made on her personal credit card.

Griffin-Lowery declined to comment when contacted Monday by The Associated Press at her current job at a private company.

Montee said Griffin-Lowery worked for the auditor’s office for six years before leaving in 2002 to join the Veterans Commission staff. The state agency operates several nursing homes and cemeteries and helps people file for federal veterans’ benefits.

As an auditor, Griffin-Lowery had been in charge of auditing the Veterans Commission. Montee said she believes Griffin-Lowery used that knowledge to later commit fraud at the Veterans Commission, where her work as an accountant was not adequately reviewed by supervisors.

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson said the auditor’s office notified his staff in March that more money was missing from the Veterans Commission. But Richardson said he cannot file new charges because the 2008 plea agreement settled all allegations related to Griffin-Lowery’s theft from the Veterans Commission. The auditor’s office and veterans agency verified at the time that her restitution payment covered the losses, Richardson said.

“If it was legally possible, we would file further charges. But it’s not legally possible,” he said.

The Veterans Commission said it would seek to recoup the additional money through an insurance bond. But Montee suggested more criminal charges were appropriate.

“If the prosecutor fails to take any other action, she walked away with $90,000,” Montee said at a Capitol news conference.

Jefferson City attorney Matthew Grayson, who represented Griffin-Lowery, said he thought the matter had been settled by her plea agreement. Griffin-Lowery was sentenced to two years of probation along with paying restitution, according to court records.

“We believed that when we wrapped up the case that the matter was handled appropriately,” Grayson said. “Any allegations about any additional moneys is something we’ve just been made aware of and something I would have to investigate.”

The audit says the thefts occurred over 21 months beginning around June 2006 and could have been prevented — or at least caught sooner — with better oversight by the Veterans Commission.

Commission executive director Larry Kay acknowledged the agency didn’t have a good system for detecting fraud but said it has since improved its financial oversight.

“We have a better division of duties so that one person is not allowed to kind of control the system, as the person in question was able to do,” Kay said.

The audit also pointed out several other problems with the Veterans Commission. The agency didn’t adequately document why it paid former executive director Hal Dulle an extra $35,000 after he resigned in August 2008, it said.

Also, Veterans Commission member Paul Connors has a conflict of interest because he is an officer with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and has signed grant requests that group submitted to the Missouri Veterans Commission, Montee said.

Commissioners don’t vote on grants, but Connors has stopped signing those requests anyway, the commission said.