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Audits uncover theft, city streets department to change some policies

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 30, 2009 -  An accountant for the city St. Louis' Streets Department has been charged with stealing city money, state auditor Susan Montee said today as she released the findings of her audits of three city departments.

Auditors probing the finances of the Streets Department discovered at least $1,200 missing in one month, April 2008, that was traced to the accountant, Calvin Johnson.

He was charged this April with a class C felony of stealing and was formally dismissed by the Streets Department in May. Johnson, 44, worked in the office of City Streets Director Todd Waeltermann

Montee said her investigators did not determine how much missing money might be traced to Johnson, who worked in the director's office for at least 30 months, raising the possibility that much more was taken.

Waeltermann said that Johnson had been working in the department for several years earlier in a lower-level accounting job but did not, at that time, have access to city money.

The director said he had learned of the auditor's suspicions last December and turned the matter over to the city police department.

A spokeswoman for the city police confirmed that an investigation did take place, but declined to provide details. The city's court records show that Johnson is accused of stealing more than $500, but less than $25,000.

Johnson is the only city employee charged so far with misdeeds during the 15 audits that Montee's staff has conducted of city departments and operations. At least eight more audits are under way.

The other audits issued Tuesday were for the offices of license collector and collector of revenue. Montee reported no major problems for either department. She particularly praised the operations of the collector of revenue. She said that office was helped in part by having adequate staff, which numbers about 100. License collector's staff is roughly 40 people.

The street department is one of the city's larger departments and has roughly 500 full, part-time or contract employees. Its budget is close to $60 million a year. Montee's audit cited numerous financial procedures in the department that could invite fraud because of lack of documentation of money collections or inadequate oversight.

Waeltermann said that, while he was distress by some of the findings, he was grateful that the auditor had disclosed the problems. He and the auditor said that a number of changes have already been made in the handling and monitoring of financial transactions.

In the audits of the collector of revenue and the city license collector, Montee generally cited the need to improve some financial procedures. And she noted that many of her recommended changes already had been put in place before Tuesday's public release of the audits' findings.

The audits are being conducted because of a successful petition drive launched by local members of the Green Party.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.