State Auditor releases Town of Jones City investigative audit
A former employee of the Town of Jones City has been arrested for allegedly embezzling thousands of dollars from fines and fees collected through citations issued by the Jones Police Department.
The Jones Board of Trustees originally requested that the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office perform an investigative audit of municipal court transactions.
Those audit findings have now been released, and an ongoing investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has led to the arrest of former deputy clerk Pam Lucas.
“We found that $59,000 were posted as received but not deposited in the cities bank account. This was a little alarming,” said state auditor Cindy Byrd.
The audit found that, between January 2016 and December 2019, the town failed to deposit $59,683 worth of municipal fines and fees. The town also failed to record the collections to the Offender Data Information System, which is required by law.
Authorities say Lucas admitted to the embezzlement years after her termination from City Hall.
OSBI agents interviewed Lucas in November of 2021, and she admitted that she had misappropriated funds, altered documents, and fraudulently changed citation amounts in the ODIS.
Documents show in the interview, Lucas admitted to taking between $100 and $500 two to three times per week, spending the stolen funds at a casino for “stress relief.”
OSBI has arrested Lucas upon the determination that $38,000 of unposted citation payments occurred while she was employed by the Town of Jones.
However, of the $59,683 in unposted payments, $21,213 occurred after Lucas was fired in February of 2019.
Officials say recently reelected Jones Court Clerk Tammy Wallace and former deputy clerk Brenda Rowlett also collected court fines and fees for citations issued by the Jones Police Department during the time in question.
“My official recommendation would be that there are questions unanswered here that are still unanswered about this $21,000 and there needs to be more investigation as to where this money went,” said Byrd. “This situation was easily preventable. There was little to no oversight over the entire court process.”
Jones officials say they have since made improvements at City Hall to avoid the discrepancies and a lack of oversight as seen up until 2022, and note any town staff listed in the investigation is not currently working at City Hall.
“Two of the employees involved, Pam Lucas and Brenda Rowlett are no longer employed by the town. Ms. Lucas was fired in 2019 after an internal investigation revealed that she had allegedly isappropriated fine payments. Ms. Rowlett left her employment in 2022. The third person named in the report, Tammy Wallace, was reelected town clerk last April. She has voluntary taken administrative leave pending further review of this matter by the Town Board of Trustees, Oklahoma law does not provide a mechanism for a Board of Trustees to remove an elected Town Clerk absent criminal conviction. Ms. Wallace has not been charged with any offense related to the Investigative Audit,” read a release from mayor Missy Wilkinson.
In addition to changes in bookkeeping systems, Jones has since separated the role of town clerk and court clerk, and hired a deputy town clerk with municipal experience. The court clerk will oversee municipal court operations separate from other city business. Jones has also established a town administrator position, which has oversight over broad day-to-day town operations. The town is looking to hire an individual to fill the position.
The town has also implemented security measures to be overseen by the police department including security cameras, and limiting access to bookkeeping and buildings.
“This situation has been simmering for some time. With the release of the investigative audit, it is finally to the point that the public can be fully informed about what has happened,” said Wilkinson.
Now with the details public in addition to new oversight and security measures in place, the Jones Board of Trustees will be working to reestablish the trust of taxpayers in town government.
“Court fines and fees are earmarked for the purpose of strengthening public safety. The findings of our audit clearly show that a person or persons in the Jones Court Clerk’s Office abused the trust of the taxpayers by misappropriating a large amount of funds,” said Byrd. “As a result, the citizens of Jones are left to pay for critical government services that should have been funded with fines.”