- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The city clerk for the small western Iowa city of Casey cost the city $300,000 over at least six years by charging personal expenses on credit cards and failing to deposit into city accounts utility payments, state auditors alleged Thursday in an investigation prompted by citizens who petitioned last year for an audit after suspecting impropriety.

Suspicions rose even more when a fire destroyed City Hall and the city’s financial records in the early morning hours of Aug. 20, 2014, the day state auditors were to meet a second time with the mayor and City Clerk Dorothy Dillinger after financial concerns were identified.

A year later State Auditor Mary Mosiman has released a report that confirmed citizens’ suspicions.

The state audit, which only covers July 2008 through October 2014, shows $289,230 of improper and unsupported disbursements from city funds and utility payments that were never deposited into city accounts. Auditors said that because the fire destroyed records they were unable to determine if anything improper happened before 2008.

Dillinger was city clerk for 30 years, beginning the job in January 1984. She said in a written statement released eight days after the fire as she was being questioned by fire investigators that she’d begun taking money as early as 2006.

Dillinger, who is now 60, apologized “for all the wrongs I have done and abusing your trust.”

“The past at least nine years, I have taken funds that were not mine to take. I have no excuse. I hope you will all forgive me, if you don’t, I will understand,” she wrote.

Dillinger, who never returned to work after the fire, has not been charged. She was fired after she released her statement. She could not be reached Thursday. She has moved from Casey and has no apparent listed telephone number at a home listed as her residence in Prairie City.

Guthrie County officials have referred the case to state prosecutors.

“We just received the auditor’s report. Our prosecutors are reviewing it and will consult with law enforcement before deciding how to proceed,” Iowa Attorney General spokesman Geoff Greenwood said.

The state audit, pieced together from bank records, the city’s accounting software provider and invoices and receipts from vendors, revealed scores of charges by Dillinger to a city credit card from numerous retailers including Victoria’s Secret, online dating service Zoosk and concert ticket vendors. A city fuel credit card had more than $7,700 in improper fuel purchases, the audit said.

Dillinger also received improper payments for payroll, vacation payouts, reimbursements from city funds and mileage. She also hasn’t paid a utility bill in years, apparently at the permission of the city council, a fringe benefit the auditors said violates Iowa law.

Auditors also reviewed the utility bills of 100 randomly selected residents from 2012 to 2014, the only period for which they could recover complete records. Only three had been correctly billed. Sixty-three had been under-billed and 34 paid too much. The overbilling ranged from $3 for one customer to more than $190 for another. Dillinger was responsible for handling utility bills.

The state fire marshal said in a statement Thursday the City Hall fire remains an active investigation and he declined further comment.

Iowa’s chief fire investigator, Ron Humphrey, told the Omaha World Herald in December that the fire is probably arson but it may be difficult to prove.

The local hairdresser who initiated the petition drive for an audit, Judi Zimmerline, did not return a message for comment.

Mayor Forrest Schnobrich also did not return messages.

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