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Auditors criticize ambulance service in Rogers County

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OOLOGAH Mismanagement of taxpayer dollars by the Oologah-Talala Emergency Medical Service District has led to illegal deficit financing and a host of financial problems, according to a state audit released Monday.

"Negligent oversight at every level of management resulted in financial mismanagement of taxpayer funds," said the report by State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd's office.

The Oologah-Talala Emergency Medical Service District is a tax-supported entity that provides emergency medical care over a 180-square-mile area of Rogers County, including Oologah, Talala and rural Claremore.

Problems uncovered by auditors ranged from questionable credit card purchases to taking on illegal debt.

"The district incurred debt in violation of state law by utilizing revolving lines of credit loans from a local bank," auditors said.

Outstanding debt from those loans totaled $167,000 as of March 9, 2018, the report said.

District officials added to their problems by taking $78,000 from the district's sinking fund, which is supposed to be used to pay off bond debt, and using it instead to pay general fund expenses. That transfer of funds violated the Oklahoma Constitution, auditors said.

Questionable credit card purchases cited by auditors included more than $4,600 in undocumented meals, dues to the National Gun Owner Association totaling $136 and $557.14 in retail purchases from Rue 21, JCPenney, Old Navy, Bass Pro Shops and AMC Owasso.

The district is currently in litigation with the Internal Revenue Service for not properly remitting 2011 payroll withholding taxes, auditors said, noting the amount of that debt totaled about $42,000 at the time of their audit.

Auditors said they were unable to find board-approved employment contracts for the director and assistant director, but each received compensation that exceeded amounts called for in unsigned contracts that auditors were shown.

Auditors also noted that the district's payroll clerk altered her own payroll claim three times without supporting documentation or board approval.

"The district's financial accounting consists of delinquent accounts, vendor accounts paid late and charged penalties, failure to keep fuel logs and monitor fuel usage, and payments to employees without time sheets," the report said.

Board Chairman Tim Albin told The Oklahoman that many of the district's financial problems stem from embezzlement by a former employee a few years ago.

"We were in financial trouble for several years and without the bank loans I don't think we would have survived it," Albin said. "We had an employee embezzle a bunch of money from us and got us behind in taxes. We had a real problem there for a couple of years."

The district is now financially much better, he said.

Albin said the board has been asking for annual state audits, but went three years before it could get one.

"We want to do it right. We want them to show us how to do it right," he said.

In management's formal response to the audit findings, officials said they will "replace the current bookkeeper" and are "in the process of hiring a CPA to prepare monthly reports which will then be reviewed by the business manager and director."

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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