Auditor: Former Eldridge city clerk found to have used over $76,000 for personal expenses

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 7:21 AM CDT
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ELDRIDGE, Iowa (KWQC) - Former Eldridge City Clerk Denise Benson used over $76,000 of city money for personal expenses and over $8,000 for undocumented expenses, according to a report released Thursday by Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand.

The report said the investigation was requested by Eldridge City officials after there were concerns about transactions processed while Benson was city clerk from Jan. 1, 2017, through Oct. 31, 2022.

According to Sand, $76,171.90 of improper disbursements included $42,384.74 of personal purchases made with the city’s credit card, $1,138.89 of unauthorized payroll issued to Benson and related payroll costs, $16,515.15 of payment to Benson’s Capital One Credit card bill and $16,133.12 of payments to other vendors by check or online payment. Included in the amounts are sales tax and late fees, and finance charges on the city’s credit card.

Sand said there were $8,718.18 of unsupported disbursements, $6,325.76 spent from the city’s credit card and $2,392.42 of payments made from the city’s checking account, not determined if they were for city operations or personal because of the lack of documentation.

Benson started with the city as the billing clerk in May 1992 and was promoted to City Clerk in January 2003.

A city official reviewing Benson’s credit card statements noticed uncommon use of the card, with charges not reported to the city council and was used for personal items, according to the report. Benson told city officials when questioned she “used the wrong card and was going to pay the city back.”

When Benson was asked about the city’s credit card use again in October 2022, she said she did not have a personal credit card and was using the city’s credit card but was reimbursing the city for all personal purchases, according to the report. She was asked to provide documents to show reimbursements, but it was never given and there were no reimbursements found by city officials.

Benson was placed on administrative leave in October 2022. The Eldrige City Council ended her employment on Oct. 26, 2022, as city clerk.

During the review of the credit card statements, Sands said they identified a number of improper purchases including personal purchases from Amazon, PayPal, gas stations, and other vendors.

In the report Sand states, they did not find records of reimbursements while reviewing Benson’s bank accounts, the city’s bank statements and other city records.

In the report from Sand, there is documentation Benson signed the city’s credit card acknowledgment in September 2018, which states, “If I use this card for personal use, it will be grounds for immediate termination.”

According to the report, city officials did not follow the recommendations from Sand in the audit from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, to segregate duties, reconcile ending cash and investments, and implement a purchasing policy.

In the report, Sand recommends city officials implement procedures to strengthen internal controls, including properly segregating duties, performing independent reviews of bank reconciliations, and ensuring all disbursements are properly supported, approved, and paid in a timely manner.

As of Thursday morning, it does not appear that criminal charges have been filed.

According to a media release from Scott County Sheriff’s Office, an investigation is ongoing and no information will be released due at this time. Assisting with this investigation is the State of Iowa Auditor’s Office.

This is a developing story. TV6 will provide updates on-air and online.