MOUNT VERNON — The Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation is looking over the financial books of the Knox County Republican Party after party officials discovered a questionable use of funds during a review of the financial records, according to party chairman Lou Petros.
“We felt it was incumbent upon us to bring the records to the attention of the proper authorities,” said Petros. “The matter was referred to the Knox County prosecutor, who subsequently referred the matter to BCII.”
The information was turned over to the prosecutor around the third week of February, he said.
Petros confirmed the party accepted the resignation of treasurer Pam Hinkens at the end of February, but did not give a reason. Petros also said Hinkens did not give a reason for her resignation. Hinkens has served as treasurer for the past three years. The investigation spans the three years Hinkens served as the fiscal officer for the party.
When asked about the amount of money involved in the discrepancy, Petros declined to comment.
Cindy Higgs was appointed to replace Hinkens shortly after Hinkens’ resignation was accepted.
A review of the Independent Accountants’ Reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office for 2006-08 showed no major concerns with the party’s financial records. There was no evidence of computational errors, nor were any discrepancies found.
In 2007, it was recommended checks be made out directly to vendors instead of reimbursement to members of the party.
“The committee did not maintain the invoice supporting the disbursement made in 2007 for $300 made payable to the Treasurer of the Knox County Republican Party for postage reimbursement. We were provided a copy of the invoice by the Postmaster,” the report stated.
According to Jennifer Springer, Knox County assistant prosecutor, when documents were turned over to the prosecutor’s office by Republican Party officials, they were not examined; the box was sealed with tape prior to being turned over to BCII.
“[The case] was given to a special prosecutor because of a conflict of interest because John [Thatcher] is a Republican,” Springer said.
She said information regarding the investigation would have to come from the Attorney General’s Office.
Local attorney Ken Lane serves as legal counsel for Mid-Ohio Transit Authority, where Hinkens serves as director. As a member of the Republican Executive Committee, Lane was aware of discrepencies in the party’s accounting. He said MOTA is taking the appropriate steps to look at the issue, but does not feel MOTA will be part of the investigation.
“There is no reason MOTA would be brought into this at this time,” Lane said.
Hinkens has been on paid sick leave from her position as director of Mid-Ohio Transit Authority since calling in sick on Feb. 27, Jim MacNaughton, a temporary fill-in for Hinkens told the News Tuesday afternoon.
“She’s on extended sick leave and under the care of a physician,” MacNaughton said. “She has accrued sick leave benefits and can use them until they exhaust.”
MacNaughton said he was unaware of any interest by the prosecutor’s office or BCII to look over MOTA’s financial records. In fact, he said, “MOTA has never had anything but a clean audit.”
According to MOTA’s audits, available on the Auditor of the State of Ohio’s Web site, there have been no findings in any audit during Hinkens’ tenure as director, nor prior to her employment. The most recent audit, covering Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2007, was released March 12, with no findings.
MacNaughton, who was involved in the implementation of MOTA’s accounting software 15 years ago, said there are four different checks in the system that would “tell on anyone coming in and making an edit to any of the processed batches.”
“There is always a paper trail,” he said.
Although he said the system is not 100 percent fail-proof, MacNaughton believes it is highly unlikely money could be pilfered without someone realizing what was going on.
“I would be extremely shocked and surprised,” he said.
When training Hinkens on MOTA’s computer system, MacNaughton said he was impressed with her attentiveness and ability to learn quickly.
“From an accounting standpoint, I was favorably impressed with her,” he said. “Last year I complimented her for her grasp of the system, and I don’t throw out complements easily. It would be surprising to me for her to be involved in anything irregular.”
A message left Tuesday for Hinkens was unreturned.