AUDIT DRAFT: Questions more than $40K in p-card spending

By: Gordon Boyd
By: Gordon Boyd

KNOXVILLE (WVLT) -- The audit is still in first draft, and was released so early that the public knew about it before the Knox County mayor’s office and commissioners were able to review it.

As of Thursday evening, the commissioner's auditors would not talk about the report until the mayor’s office responded.

But in reviewing four and a half years and more than $180,000 in p-card spending for food, travel, and rooms, the auditor and Tennessee Controller have found more than $40,000 in questionable charges.

The reason they are considered questionable is because in some cases, their receipts or which either don't exist or aren't complete, or in a dozen cases, may have been faked.

“I don't want to put it that way, but I did tell you so,” said Knox County commissioner Paul Pinkston.

Pinkston won't call it vindication, but the audit's first draft seems to confirm his claims that the County Mayor's office has treated P-cards as blank checks.

More than half the problems with receipts can be traced back to supervisors who failed to square up the spending of their underlings, a fact that is baffling to commissioners.

“I don't turn anything into the IRS if I don't have a receipt to back it up,” said R. Larry Smith.

“When they have receipts, it's hard to figure out what's proper and what's improper,” said Pinkston.

Auditors have called into question more than $7,500 of Mayor Ragsdale's p-card charges.

When you look at the section of the audit dealing with his account, you find almost 3 dozen charges, including more than $1,200 that appear to be for gas, even though he has a county car, a car allowance, and county policy calls for reimbursing only actual mileage.

“I’m going to look at whether some expenses have been done illegally, that's my main concern,” said Knox County commissioner Tank Strickland.

Much of the investigation may focus on former county Community Services Director Cynthia Finch.

According to the audit, sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha reported paying her more than $29,000 in expenses spread over two tax years.

But they have not yet been able to determine whether Knox County might have paid those same bills, which would have meant Finch was in effect “double-dipping.”

“If they can't justify something in the report that is wrong, then I think they should pay them back,” said Strickland.
“I think it should have been paid back a long time ago,” said Pinkston.

Another even more complicated issue is that dozen of receipts totaling more than $2,000, purportedly came from FedExKinkos.

But the auditors say FedExKinkos claims they aren’t company receipts.

Furthermore, auditors say an individual, who they have yet to name, has admitted to falsifying receipts for Finch.

“The worse case scenario is if somebody needs to be prosecuted, somebody needs to be prosecuted,” said Smith.

Neither Cynthia Finch, nor her Attorney, has been reachable for comment.

Commissioners Smith, Pinkston and Strickland maintain that the newly reconstituted County Commission can review both the audit and the mayor's response without politicizing the issue.

Mayor Ragsdale and his staff have ten working days to draft their response, and until then, the mayor has only said he has no comment.

County law director John Owings has asked commission’s permission to remedy any problems raised.

The district attorney general's office says it will investigate, if the Tennessee Controller asks, it to determine whether anybody's violated any criminal laws.

You can read the draft of the audit by clicking on the links below.

Knox County Audit Draft Part I

Knox County Audit Draft Part II

Knox County Audit Draft Part III


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