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State investigation shows former Black Township Trustee used funds for personal bills

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By Jamie Grabert and Rachel Christian

To review the full State Board of Accounts Special Investigation Report, click the link at the end of the story.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts released the findings of its special investigation into deceased former Black Township Trustee Lindsay Hoehn-Suits on Monday.   

Suits served as trustee from 2011 until her passing in August.

The audit report reveals discrepancies in township assistance benefits paid, the use of township funds for Suits’ personal mortgage, the use of public funds for payment on her personal cell phone service, a check made out to cash and a lack of documentation for expenditures.

Additional items listed include a $75,363 transfer from the Firefighting Fund to the Rainy Day Fund, and internal control deficiencies were also noted, meaning a lack of accountability and reliability of information and records.

The audit report cited the following findings:

TOWNSHIP ASSISTANCE BENEFITS PAID FOR RELATIVE

Township assistance benefits were paid on behalf of a relative of Lindsay Suits, former Trustee, from June 30, 2011 to Oct. 23, 2015, totaling $18,187.74. Applications were filed by the relative annually instead of every 180 days as required; except for 2015, where two applications were filed. Only one instance did an application filed by the relative show that she was related to Suits and there were no affidavits on file requesting extended, additional, or continuing aid.

During June 30, 2011 to Oct. 23, 2015, 31 payments of benefits were made on behalf of the relative. In 26 instances, the amounts paid exceeded the maximum amount of benefits allowed and in all 31 instances the relative had income in excess of the amount eligible for assistance as stated in the Township Assistance Guidelines. For 22 of the payments no Township assistance application was presented specifically requesting assistance by the relative.

Twenty-four of the payments did not have supporting documentation or invoices presented to identify the service provided.

PERSONAL MORTGAGE PAYMENTS

Four payments were made from the Township Assistance Fund during the period July 28, 2014 to Dec. 1, 2014, totaling $5,313.88. All four payments were made payable to a financial institution. which was not the Township's depository.

In response to a subpoena issued on March 22, 2016, the bank receiving the Township payments identified them as mortgage payments on property at 1210 Tanglewood Drive in Mount Vernon.

Based on deed records in the Posey County Recorder's office and the Posey County assessment records, the property at this address [which at the time was] owned by Suits and her spouse. These mortgage payments were personal expenses for Suits, and not related to Township business.

PERSONAL CELL PHONE EXPENSES

During the period of Feb. 28, 2013 to June 2, 2015, the Township made payments for cell phone services for Suits totaling $3,256.45. Only one fully itemized invoice was presented which showed that the cell phone service was not in the name of the Township, but instead in the name of Suits' spouse and included services for Suits and her spouse.

The invoice also included a $27 monthly charge for the purchase of an Apple iPhone 5. An itemized invoice of the cell phone services or other supporting documentation was not presented to substantiate all other cell phone payments or to show that the phone number was used or listed for Township business.

LACK OF SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION ON DISBURSEMENTS

Disbursements totaling $3,965.81 made from the Township Assistance Fund from June 30, 2013 to Nov. 9, 2014, for prescriptions, food and dental benefits did not have proper supporting documentation.

The payments could not be traced to any applicant's applications on file qualifying them for assistance.

TOWNSHIP FUND - CASH WITHDRAWAL

On Sept. 23, 2015, a hand written check, number 10600, which was made payable to "Cash" was issued and endorsed by Suits in the amount of $300. There was no detailed invoice or other supporting documentation substantiating this disbursement other than a note in the ledger stating that the cash was to pay for the costs of attending an ITA meeting.

Although a meeting was held for Townships during that period and Suits attended, without supporting documentation, [the SBOA] were unable to verify that any or all of the $300 cash was used for Township purposes while attending the meeting.

To view the full report, click the link at the end of the article.

According to the audit report, the State of Indiana is asking for $51,088.80 from Suits’ estate. Of that total, $31,023.88 is based on the bullet points above.

The state is requesting $20,064.92 from Suits’ estate for costs incurred as part of the investigation.

According to state law, trustees and those elected to advisory boards manage township budgets and expenses. Posey County Auditor Sarah Beth Meighen does not manage or oversee township trustees or their budgets.

Posey County Sheriff Greg Oeth said he wasn’t aware of the results of the audit until it hit the local media. He said he hasn’t received anything from the state, but noted that there’s a possibility an investigation could be triggered by Posey County Prosecutor, Travis Clowers.

Sheriff Oeth also said he is aware of a newly-formed investigative branch by the SBOA that is comprised of former Indiana State Police Troopers.

The ISP also has a White Collar Crime Unit that is equipped to handle such cases.

Posey County Commissioner Jim Alsop had no comment.

Cindy Middleton was caucused in as the Township Trustee following Suits’ death in August. She briefly served in the position for less than three months. Former Posey County Commissioner Jerry Walden was sworn in as the new trustee in December.

Walden also said he had no knowledge of the investigation until the day the report was released.

He went on to add that such issues are unlikely to occur in the future.

 “We’ve got a really good system in place now, and everyone who works here is aware of it,” he said. “We have checks and double checks, and have done everything the state wants. So it shouldn’t be possible now.”