- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A small Choctaw County school is under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general for the misappropriation of at least $235,000 over a five-year period.

The Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1iZ2EmS ) reported Friday that Broken Arrow-based accounting firm Sanders, Bledsoe and Hewett faced questions from the state board of education about audits that it made at the Swink school district. The firm is responsible for auditing nearly one-fourth of Oklahoma’s public school districts.

The Swink school district’s treasurer and encumbrance clerk have been suspended and are expected to be charged in the case. State officials believe the case involves abuse of district fuel cards, falsified checks, forgery, and the use of public dollars to purchase alcohol, tobacco, video games and other items for personal use from Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

Education department officials questioned how the company gave Swink clean audits with no reported findings, recommendations or exceptions over the five-year period.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and State Auditor Gary Jones met with school board members on Thursday to discuss the case.

“Let this be a cautionary tale to board members across the state: If your audit looks too good to be true year after year after year, ask questions,” Hofmeister said.

Jeff Hewett, a partner at the accounting firm, told the board that it has been his firm’s practice to report all but the most serious findings from its audits in separate documents, but Nancy Hughes, executive director of financial accounting at the Oklahoma Department of Education, said all such documents are required to be filed with each school district’s annual audit.

According to Hewett, his firm would review its practices as a result of the situation.

Swink Public Schools’ attorney, Laura Holmes with the Center for Education Law, defended the saying some digging by the firm’s accountants is what ultimately brought the malfeasance to light.

“This matter would not have been discovered if there had been a rotation in auditor,” she said.

State Auditor Gary Jones suggested to the board that schools should rotate their auditors frequently and that more controls are needed to prevent schools from “audit shopping.”

Jones said, “We have a real problem in the state of Oklahoma in that the number of firms auditing is decreasing. We have a fewer number of firms doing more work. I think we have a tendency to try to get through the work more quickly.”

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Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

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