Because of loose accounting practices, crime victims have been shortchanged by Otsego County's Probation Department, according to an audit performed by the state Comptroller's Office.

The county responded last month, saying that changes are being made to address that and other problems.

Conducted last year, the audit covered the period of Jan. 1, 2006, to Sept. 7, 2007.

During that period, ``department officials did not establish effective internal controls, including policies and procedures ... Our audit found a lack of segregation of duties, a lack of accountability over moneys collected at the satellite office (in Oneonta), untimely deposits and remittance of fees to the county treasurer, and a lack of monthly reconciliations,'' the audit's executive summary reads.

``Approximately $9,780 of unidentified, undisbursed restitution money on deposit as of August 31, 2007, was not paid to crime victims because the department's records were not sufficient to identify the intended recipients," the summary continues. "Further, the department's bank account was not earning interest for the period January 1, 2006, to August 31, 2007, (money) that could have been used to pay crime victims."

The audit also found that the county board did not perform or hire anyone for an annual audit of the department, and that the department's books and records were not periodically examined. The audit said this lack of financial oversight allowed "the mismanagement of probationers' fees and restitution payments to occur without being detected and corrected.

``In addition, the department did not establish procedures to enforce the collection of overdue restitution and probationers' fees,'' the summary reads. ``Department officials did not pursue the collection of inactive probationary accounts; no process was in place to notify individuals with delinquent accounts of amounts due; and staff did not refer appropriate delinquencies back to the courts for enforcement or seek court-ordered civil judgments.

According to the audit: 44 percent of restitution accounts were delinquent for more than a year, as of October, at a total balance of more than $137,000. Also, more than $47,000 was not collected on active or inactive probation accounts, which the audit said could have funded department operations.

On July 3, James Powers, chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives, responded by saying the county was fixing problems. A new policy calls for ``at least three'' people to be involved in financial transactions and money is being deposited weekly with the county Treasurer's Office.

Powers wrote that once a month, the Probation Department will notify the appropriate courts when restitution is not being paid, and that all people with delinquent accounts will be notified in writing at least every six months.

On Monday, Powers said money collected by the Probation Department is being deposited in an interest-bearing account, and the search is on for unpaid crime victims, although they can be difficult to locate.

``We take this seriously and we're working on it,'' he said.

Kristen Leahy, the county's probation director since October 2007, said she has created new policies for her department, and those policies were adopted two weeks ago.

``Everyone in the department has been involved in addressing the problems,'' she said.

Leahy noted she has asked the board to let her hire a part-time clerical employee to help with department accounts.

Leahy reports to the county's Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Stephen Fournier, R-Milford, said the department needs more clerical help.

``Kristen is a hard worker and she's doing a good job, and we have to give her the support she needs," he said. Fournier said he plans to bring the request to the board's attention at Wednesday's county board meeting in Cooperstown.

Former Probation Director Colleen Thorn, who left last September, said she knew an audit was starting as she left, but never was apprised of the details.

Thorn, who served as director from October 2006 until September 2007, has returned to Albany County, where she is a probation officer.

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