Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

TOP STORY >>County to crack down on cheats

Leader senior staff writer

More charges may be looming for former Pulaski County Comptroller Ron Quillin, accused last week of embezzling about $42,000 in county funds.

Even as chairmen of the quorum court’s budget, ways and means, county services and administration committees convened a special meeting to find ways to discourage future thefts from the county, Sheriff Doc Holladay said the investigation into Quillin’s activities continued.

Pulaski County officials know more than they are saying, but they seem to be waiting for the other shoe to drop in the Quillin investigation. Choosing his words carefully, Holladay said his investigators had “gathered a lot of financial information,” and that it was “possible there would be additional charges.”

Those charges could revolve around illegal use of a county credit card or reimbursement for non-business travel, meals and expenses.

Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers said “There may have been some travel on county money but it may not have been done for county business. We need to make sure it was for a meeting in St. Louis, not screwing off.”

Quillin, who is free on $35,000 bond, pleaded not guilty last week to 16 felony counts of theft of property, two felony counts of forgery and a misdemeanor count of abuse of office when he appeared before District Judge Wayne Gruber.

Those chairmen—Stowers, Steve Goss, Charles Roberson, and Jacksonville’s Bob Johnson—voted unanimously to have the new comptroller, Mike Hutchins, prepare a request for qualifications for an investigator—perhaps a CPA—to check into credit-card use by county employees. Hutchins also will prepare a request for qualifications for a lawyer to represent if necessary the quorum court on a per-hour basis. In most matters, County Attorney Karla Burnett represents the court, but she is technically an employee of the county judge’s office.

The four announced their intention to conduct a limited audit of the county credit cards, saying that for the $50,000 they were authorized to spend, they couldn’t get a full-fledged audit. Some department heads—including Quillin—were issued cards with credit lines of as much as $100,000.

As long as there is appropriate oversight, the cards can be a good idea, Johnson said. The county sometimes gets a discount as well as 2 percent of the price of all charged purchases back.

When County Judge Buddy Villines charged $35,000 worth of new air conditioners for a county building recently, the county got $700 back.

Such purchase cards—P-cards as they are known—are helpful in times of emergency, Johnson said. Quillin’s alleged crimes began in January 2006, continuing until recently, according to county officials.

While Quillin was comptroller at the time of the alleged crimes, he had been promoted to director of administration, and left that job April 30 to become the chief financial officer of the state’s Medicaid program for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Julie Munsell, spokesman for DHHS, said following Quillin’s arrest that the state has put him on administrative leave.
The alleged embezzlement came to light May 24, Villines said, when a county employee alerted him that she was concerned about an account “outside county government.”

The next day, staff found “what appeared to be misappropriation of funds,” said the judge.
After that things moved pretty fast, he said. Villines called for background checks and bonding of county employees who handle money. Earlier this week, Villines issued an executive order that the State Police conduct background checks on those in positions of trust and handling money.