Bill introduced to increase penalties for those convicted of misusing taxpayer money

DES MOINES, Iowa (KCRG) - State Auditor Rob Sand says a bill in the Iowa House would increase the number of prosecutions of people who are accused of misusing or stealing public money. This follows an I9 investigation last year that found that most of those cases never lead to criminal charges.

Iowa Auditor Rob Sand explains results of an audit his agency conducted of the Iowa Medicaid Home Health Services program during a news conference at the Iowa Capitol, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. Standing behind him are Deputy Auditor Annette Campbell, left, and Senior Auditor Melissa Finestead. Sand criticized the Iowa Department of Human Services for providing data he claimed was so flawed he couldn't test it. (AP Photo/David Pitt)

State Auditor Rob Sand introduced the bill himself. If signed into law, Sand said he thinks more county attorneys will prosecute crimes where someone misused large amounts of public money because the offender would face increased penalties.

Sand's bill would require judges to sentence those convicted of misusing taxpayer money to jail time. How much time one would be sentenced to is up to the judge's discretion, but it will not allow them to impose a suspended or deferred sentence. The bill would also require those found guilty to pay restitution.

"What shouldn't be controversial is the idea that if you steal taxpayer money when you're in a position of trust, you actually get held accountable for it," Sand said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa has already come out against the bill. A spokesperson for the group said the bill would take away too much power from judges.

"Jail might not be the best solution every time," Veronica Fowler, spokesperson for the ACLU of Iowa, said. "The bill is extremely broad, badly written."

I9 found in our original investigation that only around 40 percent of 67 special audits done between January 2017 and September 2019 led to prosecution. That comes out to around $8 million dollars worth of misused funds for which no one is being held responsible.

A house subcommittee is scheduled to discuss the bill on Wednesday.