OAKDALE – A former Oakdale town clerk is accused of embezzling nearly $ 360,000 in town-owned funds, according to a routine audit.
Melissa “Lisa” Schaefer has been a clerk for 19 years. She passed away in March.
Mayor Gene Paul said the hijacking was discovered during a routine internal audit of the city’s finances. The findings of the audit were shared with council at a June 3 meeting that was broadcast live on the city’s Facebook page.
“There were a lot of red flags and work that was not completed during this audit,” said Paul.
The theft allegedly took place over a period of 18 months.
“It was a surprise to me,” said Paul. “My heart is broken. You never think it’s going to happen to you, but we’ll get through it and we will survive. I’m sorry the taxpayers have to go through this.
Paul said the clerk allegedly put money on payroll and paid himself more money by creating fraudulent accounts and invoices. Schaefer may have overpaid herself from $ 10,000 to $ 30,000 a month.
“She had three accounts and forwarded the numbers and put money into those accounts,” Paul said.
Questions have also been raised about large unexplained sums of money in the city’s undocumented credit card accounts and bank statements that were not reconciled in a timely manner.
No formal charges have been filed and no decision is pending as Schaefer is deceased.
Paul said the city is trying to do whatever it can under the law to get the money back.
“We want to do whatever we can by law to recoup our losses and put this behind us and move forward,” he said. “Since I have been mayor we have had two hurricanes, COVID and an ice storm, but nothing that big, but we will survive this. “
“The city clerk used ACH (Automated Clearing House) transactions to transfer money to three different personal bank accounts,” accountant Royce Scimemi said in communicating the audit to council.
The embezzlement amounts were $ 248,563 from July 19 to June 30, 2020. An additional amount of $ 109,461 was withdrawn from July 1, 2020 to March 11, 2021.
Additional funds could be lacking that the city is not aware of, Scimemi said. Financial years prior to July 2019 were not analyzed as part of the recent audit.
Scimemi said Schaefer had access to two electronic devices that allowed him to initiate and approve transactions. The devices were designed to be in separate hands, he said.
In the future, the devices will be owned by two different people. The mayor will also receive reports directly from the bank detailing the amounts and recipients of all ACH transfers.
The Legislative Auditor and the Allen Parish District Attorney’s Office were invited to review the audit.