As you know, the Clerk of Courts is responsible for the county’s Accounts Payable function and to that end, his staff is required to pre-audit all invoices to ensure that the Clerk does not approve and pay an illegal expenditure. The Clerk is prohibited by statute from making improper payments. Upon the Clerk’s determination that the invoice to be paid is legal, the Clerk is required by county ordinance to present the invoice to the Board of County Commissioners for approval. Once the Board grants such approval by vote, the Clerk has the authority to proceed with the actual payment of the invoice. Further, the Clerk of Courts as custodian of county assets and as the county auditor is obliged to ensure that the county has a system of working internal controls that safeguards those public assets against compromise by employees in his office, by county employees, or by private citizens.
Evidence has come to light that leaves me concerned that what potentially could be deemed fraud has been perpetrated against the county. More specifically, it appears that it is possible that fraudulent invoices were submitted to the Clerk of Courts for payment in the name of a construction contractor hired by the county to perform various repairs to county property. Further, that the Clerk of Courts paid these allegedly fraudulent invoices, and, that the payments were made electronically by the Clerk without prior approval of the Board of County Commissioners.
Based on the above, I contacted the County Manager and shared the information I had. The County Manager independently reviewed and analyzed the facts and arrived at the same conclusion. We proceeded, within hours, to turn over the evidence to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, and importantly, the County Manager is conducting his own internal review to determine whether or not there is any wrongdoing on the part of the county staff.
It is not only my immediate duty; it is the immediate duty of every elected official in receipt of this kind of information to conduct law enforcement.
I want to emphasize that my concern with respect to this matter was heightened when I learnt that the Clerk of Courts had paid potentially fraudulent invoices without prior approval of the Board of County Commissioners in violation of the Board’s Purchasing Ordinance. Based on my review, it appears that the Clerk of Courts did not properly perform his statutorily required pre-payment audit responsibility by failing to obtain independent verification of supporting documentation submitted with the contractor’s invoices prior to making said payments. It is not the county staff’s duty to determine whether documents they receive from outside vendors are fraudulent. Further, if there is collusion between vendors and county staff or Clerk’s staff, the Board of County Commissioners and the County Manager rely on the Clerk’s pre-audit to ensure that these parties are caught before payment is made.
Additionally, through the beginning of this week, I have reason to believe that the Clerk of Courts has known for more than one month that his office made improper payments, that he did not initially uncover that his payments were improper due to a subsequent internal audit but rather due to information by chance voluntarily provided by a subcontractor, and, that notwithstanding such knowledge the Clerk of Courts failed to formally notify the Board of County Commissioners, the County Manager, and law enforcement of possible crimes against the county and of his improper payments so that proper measures could be taken on our part without delay.
I want to thank the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and the County Manager for their commitment to getting to the bottom of this case and for doing what is necessary to protect the Collier County tax payers. I look forward to the results of the County Manager’s review upon presentation to the Board of County Commissioners. I am committed to working closely with my colleagues on the County Commission to take all measures necessary to stop such improper practices from occurring in the future. This includes holding the Clerk of Courts (to whom the Board provides $6 million dollars a year for these accounting services) fully accountable for his pre-audit responsibilities, and, if the County Manager determines that any county staff is involved to hold such staff accountable.
In closing, I invite anyone in the community who has information or concerns about potential wrong doing involving county contractors or vendors to please call the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, ask for Detective Macera at (239) 252-9300.