County Auditor Notes Significant Findings In The Fraud, Waste And Abuse Investigation Of The West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department

I found this information on Reddit…yep, I still use that resource for local happenings…and was surprised I had not seen this reported anywhere yet…so I thought I would put something out about the audit of The West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department.

Here is some background noted in the report:

In accordance with Section 212 of the Howard County Charter, I am reporting on the results of our investigation of an allegation of fraud, waste, and abuse of County funds involving the West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, Inc.

While performing their 2018 annual audit procedures at West Friendship, the external auditors were informed of possible fraudulent activity, as well as waste and abuse of County funds by the West Friendship officers. Based on information provided by the external auditors to the Office of the County Auditor, I made the decision that our Office was duty-bound to follow-up on the accusation.

Our review was limited to the use of County taxpayer revenue. We did not include expenses made using other sources such as fund raising and donations. We reviewed credit card and bank statements and supporting documentation for Fiscal Years 2014 through 2018. In addition, we interviewed West Friendship present and former Officers, including the previous Chief.

A pervasive lack of supporting documentation limited our ability to determine the extent of certain findings included in this report. Although this was a West Friendship-wide weakness, which we quantify below under Other Findings – West Friendship, this lack of documentation often related to purchases made by senior personnel, including the previous Chief and current Treasurer. For example, $130,135 of the previous Chief’s and current Treasurer’s credit card purchases over the five-year period were not supported by itemized receipt, and therefore we could not identify the actual goods purchased.

Findings and recommendations are presented in three sections as follows:

  • Findings – Fraud, Waste, and Abuse – includes findings where the condition(s) are indicative of possible fraud, waste, or abuse of County funds.
  • Other Findings – West Friendship – includes findings identified as specific to West Friendship resulting from our investigation. These conditions may have contributed to our findings of fraud, waste, or abuse.
  • Other Findings – County – includes findings applicable to the County’s relationship and oversight of all Corporations. The conditions cited are not unique to West Friendship.

I am going to provide the titles of the various finding…you can always go read the report to get the full details:

Findings – Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

Finding 1 – The previous Chief used his family business to establish cellular phone service and purchase cellular phone equipment on behalf of West Friendship. The previous Chief invoiced West Friendship for this service yet failed to provide adequate documentation to support these costs, some of which were questionable.

Finding 2 –  The previous Chief used his authority and position to order and/or approve purchases from his family business.

Finding 3 – West Friendship used County funds to send gifts, donations, and flowers in violation of County policy.

Finding 4 – County and West Friendship funds were comingled.

Finding 5 – Certain travel costs were incurred using County funds instead of West Friendship funds.

Other Findings – West Friendship

Finding 6 – Items purchased were frequently delivered to the purchaser’s home or business address.

Finding 7 –  West Friendship had not developed or implemented internal controls over credit card and purchase order payments.

Other Findings – County

Finding 8 – The County does not provide training to the Corporations on proper accounting, procurement, and internal controls.

Finding 9  – Each Corporation’s budget request was not submitted to the County Executive as required by the County Code.

Finding 10 – The County and Corporations have not periodically reviewed or updated their Memorandum of Understanding.

10 findings is significant in this audit (at least I thought so when I read it). No finding was challenged by West Friendship or County Administration…but the responses are interesting…and worth a read. Also interesting that the scope was “was limited to the use of County taxpayer revenue”…one has to wonder if the findings would have been worse had the scope extended beyond that review.

Be sure to give the report a read if this is something of interest to you:

I went ahead and downloaded the report and added it to my website in case the link goes away in the future:

Have thoughts on the finding of this audit…thoughts about the fact there has been no coverage or press announcement of this audit…let me know in the comments.

This may be a topic I reach out to the county for a comment next week when I get some time to follow up.

Scott E

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