- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An audit of an office responsible for managing soil and water conservation programs in Mahaska County shows more than $279,000 was improperly taken and cash not properly deposited by a former secretary over seven years, Iowa Auditor Mary Mosiman said Wednesday.

A state audit was requested last year after Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship officials discovered financial irregularities in the Mahaska County Soil and Water Conservation District office.

The investigation revealed more than $241,000 withdrawn from district bank accounts on 135 occasions in amounts ranging between $62 and $4,600. The audit showed on many days money was withdrawn from a district account a corresponding deposit was made into the bank account of Jessica Strasser, the former secretary. More than $37,000 from checks was found to be taken in cash instead of deposited in district accounts.

Strasser, 42, a state employee of IDALS, resigned on Aug. 9, 2013, after officials learned there were insufficient funds in the conservation district’s bank account to pay a bill.

Strasser wrote a letter to the district taking responsibility for her actions, expressing sorrow and blaming the stress of having her husband gone. Her husband, Matt Strasser, is an officer with the Iowa National Guard and has been activated several times in recent years including service in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

“With Matt being gone, the stress of working in two offices, and caring for my boys became too much for me to handle,” the letter said. It is attached to Mosiman’s audit report. “I should have reached out for help, but failing was a greater fear. My actions are not excusable and I take full responsibility for them.”

The discovery prompted state agriculture officials to quickly remove secretaries and other employees from access to conservation district financial accounts.

Mosiman’s audit recommended several changes in the way the districts handle money. She said commissioners should review financial records and reconcile accounts periodically. In addition, she said payments should be made to the districts from state agencies electronically instead of by check.

Copies of the audit were sent to the Mahaska County attorney and the Iowa attorney general’s office. Messages were not immediately returned. A check of court records revealed no charges have been filed.

The telephone number listed for Strasser wasn’t working Wednesday.

Iowa has 100 conservation districts each governed by five commissioners elected to four-year terms.


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