Mismanagement in Nassau County’s Probation Department led crime victims to lose out on $266,000 over three years, according to an audit by county Comptroller George Maragos.
The department failed to follow up on 1,102 checks worth that much left uncashed as of Dec. 31, 2014, from its Restitution Bank Account, which collects about $2.6 million in criminal restitutions annually, according to the audit released last Thursday.
“The Probation Department appears to be failing crime victims and our system of justice by not effectively accounting for, safeguarding and distributing restitution funds,” Maragos, a Democrat who is running for county executive, said in a statement.
The Probation Department collects fines, court-ordered restitutions and reparations, probation fees and surcharges and makes payments to crime victims from its restitution account.
Maragos’ audit, covering 2013 through 2015, found the restitution account was “not adequately managed or reconciled.”
The department is supposed to spend up to a year searching for victims whose checks have not cleared to ensure they get their money, but auditors found it had not sent letters trying to locate unpaid victims since December 2011.
In addition to leaving the checks unaddressed, the department failed to reconcile its bank balances for at least 19 months, left more than $100,000 in bank entries unadjusted for two years and had not released payments from restitution trust funds since 2011, the audit says.
The department also lacked controls to prevent money from being stolen and used restitution money as probation fees, which violates state regulations, the audit says.
“Probation should take the audit as a wakeup call and expeditiously implement all recommendations in order to serve its mission,” Maragos said in a statement.
The audit covered the last three years under Probation Director John Fowle, who retired in January 2016, according to his LinkedIn profile.
In a written response to the audit, acting Probation Director John Plackis disputed several of the audit’s findings, but said the department has implemented several of the comptroller’s recommendations to strengthen its financial controls.
Department records indicate there have been 751 checks worth $150,766 left uncashed since Dec. 31, 2014, not the 1,102 the audit reported, Plackis wrote.
Auditors noted they counted all checks leading up to that date, while the department counted those uncashed after it.
The department now sends form letters to crime victims telling them to contact the department if they cash the check or if it never arrives, Plackis wrote.
“Although it is not mandated, we will attempt to use DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] records as a means to try and locate beneficiaries’ current addresses and then ascertain their reasons why checks were not cashed,” Plackis wrote.
Plackis rejected the audit’s findings that the department does not segregate duties well enough and that it improperly uses restitution money as probation fees. No theft was found in the probation account system, he wrote.
The department now uses a case management program called Caseload Explorer that allows for better oversight and more accurate tracking of payments, Packis’ response says.
“The department has segregation of duties of the supervisor to avoid any conflicts,” Plackis wrote. “There are internal controls.”
Maragos, a former Republican, regularly audits county agencies, but in recent months has been more vocally critical of County Executive Edward Mangano’s administration as he begins his county executive campaign.
Mangano, a Republican who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, has not said whether he will run for a third term.