By Randy Mitchell
ADA — Oklahoma State Auditor Steve Burrage paid a visit to Ada Wednesday and delivered a message to those who handle state funds: Keep an eye on the finances.
He attended a luncheon held by Ada Sunrise Rotary and began by speaking about life after stimulus and ended with an eye-opening slide show on the evils of fraud, waste and abuse.
Burrage, whose office is responsible for auditing state governmental offices, said those who serve on boards and councils have a responsibility to watch the money and how it is spent.
“Every time we go into a situation where there’s been fraud, I look at the board because if you’re elected to a board — a position of governance — you have the responsibility to be the guardian of public trust,” Burrage said. “If that public trust has been violated then it needs to be dealt with swiftly and severely.”
Trusting one appointed person to handle the books alone is a no-no.
“One of those fiduciary responsibilities is to make sure you have a system in place of internal controls, or whatever, to safeguard the assets of that entity and to make sure that transactions are processed properly,” Burrage said. “Because every time I go into a situation where there’s waste, fraud and abuse, I hear this, ‘Well we trusted that person.’”
Burrage said he understands those people because he has served on many boards but cautions trust is a human emotion and internal controls must supersede trust.
“Internal controls are a proper set of written policies and procedures that financial transactions ought to be processed under to safeguard the assets of that entity,” Burrage said.
He said those who serve on boards should always make sure they have some understanding of the financial conditions and not to fear asking questions.
One surprising statistic Burrage revealed was that one-third of all employees steal from their employers.
“It may not be money, but it’s something that belongs to the employer that the employee takes,” Burrage said. “Seventy-five percent of internal theft is undetected.”
In Oklahoma, nearly $1 billion a year is stolen or embezzled. The majority of stolen funds Burrage uncovers is because of greed or gambling problems, he said.
“You create opportunity for people to steal from you by not having internal controls, no checks and balances and inadequate segregation of duties,” he said. “If you give them that opportunity, they’ve got pressures, which may be financial problems, personal vices such as gambling or what have you, then they’re going to rationalize it and steal from you.”
Burrage had several examples of those who committed fraud which included some people who held high positions in their communities.
One example was 58-year-old Jackie Louise Borovetz, a former bookkeeper and deputy in the Muskogee County District Court Clerk’s Office who, while employed, embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars from November 2007 through September 2008.
“She was a nice looking lady, grandmotherly, everybody trusted her, he said, she had nine aliases, four bank accounts and stole $595,000 in 11 months,” Burrage said. “Every penny went to a casino. When we caught her, she could not even make bail.”
Borovetz agreed to a plea agreement which called for her to serve 10 years in prison followed by 25 years probation and she must pay restitution went she is freed.