Ripe for theft: Audit explains how mayor of small Missouri town stole thousands of taxpayer dollars

(The Center Square) – A town with a population of 318 in southwest Missouri had significant weaknesses in controls that led to misappropriation of thousands of taxpayer dollars by former Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Wilson.

That’s according to an audit of tiny Purcell in Jasper County initiated by a petition of residents, and carried out by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway — who gave the city a “poor” rating. The rating indicates a significant improvement in operations is necessary, and numerous findings require management’s immediate attention.

Wilson was charged with stealing in May, 2021 and pled guilty in January. She was ordered to repay the city $2,588.

“Our audit found a lack of oversight and segregation of duties by the former Board of Aldermen in Purcell that directly contributed to public funds being misappropriated,” Galloway said in a statement announcing the results. “The current board has their work cut out for them to restore the trust of the residents there, but the audit gives recommendations on each finding for the board to implement. I urge board members to quickly move forward with those recommendations.”

The audit found at least $3,233 was misappropriated or missing between Feb. 1 and April 12, 2021. Wilson issued herself four checks totaling $1,988, withdrew $400 in cash from the city bank account, issued a $200 check to a city vendor that she endorsed and deposited into her personal bank account, and issued a $500 check to an individual that was cashed and the proceeds evenly divided between the individual and Wilson.

Galloway’s report found the city in poor financial condition, with its reconciled bank balance on Dec. 31, 2020, to be only slightly greater than the city’s average monthly expenditures. It found the aldermen didn’t adequately monitor city finances and, subsequently, couldn’t strengthen the fund balances. The city also didn’t prepare complete annual budgets or monitor budgets, file annual financial reports in a timely manner and publish semiannual financial statements in compliance with state law.

Galloway’s office is planning a follow-up review to evaluate the city’s implementation of the audit recommendations.


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