Loss of fair board funds under investigation

Original Writing – News Story
3rd Place

By Kristy Zurbrick – Columbus Messenger

On Jan. 13, the Madison County Agricultural Society (senior fair board) issued a press release stating the organization lost $60,491 last year due to what they allege to be a misuse of fair board funds.

The Madison County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating the matter for the past three-and-a-half months and recently turned the investigation over to the county prosecutor’s office. At this time, no charges have been filed.

“Prosecutor (Stephen) Pronai has reviewed the information with the assistance of the State Auditor’s Office. They are continuing to review it jointly,” Sheriff Jim Sabin said on Jan. 13. Under review is “the potential loss in funds as well as the accounting procedures of the fair board,” he said.

According to Lt. Eric Semler of the Sheriff’s Office, the investigation started a few days after West Jefferson resident Brenda Roseberry contacted the Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 26, 2014. Roseberry was senior fair board treasurer at the time.

“Brenda had called our office to report she felt she’d been scammed,” Semler said.

The Sheriff’s Office sent a deputy to Roseberry’s home that day. Semler said Roseberry asked the deputy general questions about what to do in case of a scam. She did not file a report and, because she offered no other details, the deputy did not file a report.

Over the next two days, the Sheriff’s Office received calls from other fair board members who had concerns about funds in the fair board account, Semler said.

According to a Sheriff’s Office report taken Sept. 29, 2014, Les Walters, fair board vice president at the time, told a deputy that he checked the fair board bank account that day and “found it to be possibly missing a substantial amount of funds.” According to the report, Walters said that prior to going to the bank, he and Dustin Parker, board president at the time, received an email from Roseberry in which she apologized “for a mistake she had made” and said she “would be returning the funds to the fair board account.”

“Once this action was detected by the fair board, they immediately took action to stop any further activity,” Sabin said.

The Sheriff’s Office report states that Walters and Parker were “advised to freeze the account so that an investigation and audit could be conducted.” Also, at a meeting in early October, the fair board dismissed Roseberry from her duties as treasurer and removed her from the board of directors.

Because an investigation is in progress, Sabin said he cannot comment at this time on the details of the case, including how or why any fair board funds might have been lost and who might be at fault.

“We can’t identify and say by name who has been a part of this. That part, we’re still looking into,” he said. “We can’t, at this point in time, define the number of people who potentially may be at fault here, either criminally or procedurally.”

In their Jan. 13 press release, the fair board alleges the possible misuse of fair board funds may have occurred because of a scam involving a person impersonating an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent who claimed back taxes were owed and demanded payment. According to the fair board, funds were withdrawn from Madison County Agricultural Society accounts using checks made out to “cash.” The press release further alleges that a total of $60,491 was withdrawn, including $6,000 from the Junior Fair’s savings account, via five checks.

Sabin said he could not comment on whether or not an IRS scam is part of the investigation. He did confirm that there is an ongoing phone scam involving the IRS that has affected many people across the United States.

In most cases, he said, the scammer contacts a potential victim, claims to be from the IRS, tells the victim he or she owes money to the IRS, then demands immediate payment. Sometimes the scammer threatens to involve law enforcement, he said.

“As of August, (the IRS) had over 90,000 complaints on this (scam). They estimate that over $5 million has been scammed from over 1,100 individuals throughout the country,” Sabin said.

Darrell Champer, who became fair board president in November, said the board has retained legal representation through Baker & Hostetler in Columbus and is seeking restitution for lost funds.

Additionally, according to the press release, the fair board is working to correct tax liabilities and, where possible, reduce penalties and interest regarding unpaid payroll taxes discovered during the investigation. The unpaid payroll taxes date from December 2007 to December 2010, the board states, and with penalties and interest come to $27,303.06. The payroll taxes are not related to the lost funds under investigation, Champer said.

Jodi Garrison, the fair board’s current treasurer, said the board has a little over $11,000 in its accounts at this time.

“Misuse of charitable funds not only harms the Agriculture Society and its members, it takes away from our mission of educating the youth of Madison County,” Champer stated in the press release. “We will do everything in our power to correct this situation and create policies and procedures to ensure it never happens again. The current board is dedicated to restoring the trust and goodwill of our community.”

The investigation by the Sheriff’s Office and county prosecutor is focused only on the senior fair board situation, Sabin said. It has nothing to do with funds raised for new buildings and improvement projects through the Madison County Junior Fair Livestock Sale Committee. The senior fair board and the sale committee are separate entities with separate funds.

“We’re concerned with making people realize the sale committee funds are totally separate and that all of the projects are moving in the right direction and doing well,” said Doug Peterman, sale committee vice president. “By no shape or form does this involve sale committee funds or donor funds that have been contributed.”