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State auditor issues report on Bridgeport finances

T-L File Photo Bridgeport Mayor Norma Teasdale says new oversight and precautions are in place to safeguard village funds after the state auditor issued findings against the community following former mayor David Smith’s conviction and sentencing for theft in office. The village continues to work through its financial woes. State auditor issues report on Bridgeport finances

BRIDGEPORT — Ohio Auditor Keith Faber’s office issued findings following an audit of Bridgeport village finances in the wake of former mayor David Smith’s conviction and sentencing in August for theft in office.

The state found multiple issues with village finances in recent years, but village officials say those have been resolved.

Smith was accused of stealing more than $24,000 from the village since he was elected in 2016.

According to the auditor’s office, during the period Jan. 1, 2016 to Feb. 5, 2020, the control structure for mayor’s court fees lacked proper segregation of duties. When mayor’s court fees were received, the clerk recorded the payment in a manual duplicate receipt book, recorded all of the payments received in a cash book, prepared the receipts for deposit, and deposited the payments at the bank. The audit found the clerk reported directly to the mayor and followed his directives regarding this money, including providing him access, but no actual controls or oversight were in place over these funds.

According to an audit by the Special Investigations Unit, Smith misappropriated mayor’s court receipts totaling $26,970. Checks were collected but not deposited, and Smith wrote checks or included other checks to himself to repay some of the mayor’s court fees he had taken. Smith said other times he would use the mayor’s court fees to “cash” his village payroll check. Documentation was not maintained to determine why Smith included the checks in the mayor’s court deposits.

On Sept. 21, Belmont County Common Pleas Judge John Vavra ordered Smith to pay $26,927 in restitution, which included audit findings from Jan. 1, 2016 through Sept. 25, 2019 totaling $24,467 along with audit costs totaling $2,460. State audit findings identified an additional $2,503 in misappropriated mayor’s court receipts from Sept. 26, 2019 to Feb. 5 of this year.

A finding for recovery for $29,430 was issued against Smith in favor of the village of Bridgeport’s mayor’s court fund.

Additionally, during 2019 and 2018, the village’s debit card, controlled by Smith, was used for purchases totaling $6,130 and $11,884; however, the voucher packet, which normally contains an invoice or other documentation to support the expenditure, could not be located for purchases totaling $2,965 and $11,071, respectively. Without the appropriate documentation, it was not possible to determine if the expenditures included items that would not be considered a proper public purpose.

A finding for recovery was issued against Smith and his bonding company, the Western Surety Co., in the amount of $14,036 in favor of the village of Bridgeport’s general fund.

Other concerns included 16 noncompliance and seven internal control deficiency findings.

In 2019, the village had been put in a state of fiscal emergency, with a $768,000 in debt between the general fund and the street construction maintenance fund.

“We were very under-bonded, not just for the mayor but for other offices that handled money,” village Solicitor Michael Shaheen said, adding that the bonding was set in place prior to him beginning to work for the village.

“That part’s been changed with the help of our current fiscal officer,” he said. “As a result of the oversight committee, the administration’s made significant changes, so we don’t anticipate having a problem ever like this again.”

Shaheen commended Norma Teasdale, appointed to the mayor’s duties in March and later sworn in as the new mayor.

“She’s there morning, noon and night. She’s working her tail off,” he said. “She’s trying to do everything right. She truly loves the town. She’s there truly as a public servant, and she needs to be commended. When she came in, not only did the mayor resign, but the president of council (Marvin Husarik) resigned and this kind of fell on her lap. Instead of shying from the challenge, she’s really stepped up.”

Teasdale had no comment on the money slated to be returned to the village, but she said the village has taken extensive measures to protect funds in the future.

“We’re putting in safeguards completely. We’re rectifying the issues we’re noncompliant (with). Most of those issues have been rectified, and we will continue to make sure the safeguards continue.

“We’re doing the best we can for the village.”

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