Audit: County Official Stole Car Registration Fees
GLENWOOD, Iowa (AP) — A fired county official in western Iowa will be charged with theft after state auditors alleged she embezzled vehicle registration fees for years, a prosecutor said Friday.
Former Mills County Treasurer's Office employee Tammy Gammon took $36,000 that should have been collected for state and county government services, according to a special investigation issued by the state auditor.
Gammon's alleged theft dated back to at least 2005 and took advantage of drivers who were paying the annual fees required to register their vehicle with the county, the report said. She entered vehicle registration information into a database operated by the Iowa Department of Transportation, the report said, but would later void the transaction and keep the fees.
In all, the scheme involved 182 transactions with fees typically around $200 apiece. This caused problems for drivers, whose cars appeared to be unregistered in the state database. Some of them may have been improperly ticketed or warned by police for not having their cars registered, while others may have been forced to pay extra fees and late payments when they renewed their registrations, Mills County Attorney Eric Hansen said.
Hansen said the case is particularly sensitive because Gammon was hired in 2003 to replace another treasurer's office employee who had been convicted of embezzling vehicle taxes. He said that employee would collect the use tax paid when cars are titled, but keep the money and issue phony titles to cover her tracks.
"That's why it was even more troubling to us when this allegation came out," Hansen said.
Hansen said he was filing charges Friday against Gammon of ongoing criminal conduct, first-degree theft, felonious conduct in office and five counts of forgery. He said he expected Gammon, of Glenwood, to likely turn herself in.
A phone number for Gammon, who was fired from her job in April 2011, rang unanswered.
Gammon admitted during an interview with investigators that she did not deposit some fees and kept them instead to pay daily expenses, particularly when a lot of money was in her cash drawer, the report said. She said she believed she took less than $10,000.
Auditors say the scheme started to unravel after a routine review by DOT in January 2011 questioned an unusual transaction in which the office reinstated a registration that had been voided months earlier without explanation.
County Treasurer Becky Killpack then revisited other "unusual transactions" involving Gammon in which the DOT database showed customers did not have their cars registered even though they had proof that they were. Gammon chalked up such problems to "a glitch in the system."
Another comment by Gammon struck Killpack as a red flag only in hindsight. She told Killpack in early 2010 that she would not run for election as treasurer "because her former husband threatened to tell everyone she was stealing money from the office," the report said. Killpack thought that Gammon meant her husband was out to publicly embarrass her, not that she was actually embezzling.
Hansen said the theft allegations have caused a backlash in the small county, with some residents berating workers collecting their property and vehicle taxes. He said that Killpack was working hard to restore trust.
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