by Ivan Foley
Tuesday afternoon, on a deadline day under terms of a “demand” letter sent to him by the Platte County Commission, Rob Willard, county treasurer, sat tight.
A week earlier, Platte County commissioners had sent Willard a letter requesting he personally repay $20,000 that has yet to be recovered when the treasurer sent a wire transfer to an email spoofer.
“I am not personally repaying $20,000 today,” Willard told The Landmark.
He did add that he is “not leaving any options off the table.”
Through its bank’s fraud department, the county was able to recover around $28,000 of the $48,200 that Willard wired to a scammer on May 27 when he was acting on direction of emails he thought were coming from Ron Schieber, presiding county commissioner.
Willard has admitted he did not follow proper procedures and protocol in wiring the money. The bill payment process, under county policy, involves the authorization by at least two commissioners and the payment request is then routed to the county auditor’s office to verify funds are available in the particular account.
As first reported by The Landmark last week, on June 14 the commissioners sent a letter to Willard demanding that he personally repay the remaining $20,000 within a week or the county “will proceed with a claim against your public official surety bond executed by you and the Ohio Casualty Insurance Company.”
Willard says the county is rushing the processes that can be used to recover the remaining funds.
“I think it is premature,” he said of the commission’s demand letter to him. “There haven’t been any attempts to make a claim on the county insurance policy.”
The treasurer, who was first elected in 2012 and is unopposed on the ballot for reelection this year, said he is “not leaving any options off the table” in efforts to “make the county whole” again.
“My ultimate goal is to make sure the money is recouped. I’m not leaving any options off the table, but I believe the process has been a bit rushed.”
Asked what process the commission should be following instead of the demand letter, Willard said:
“I thought the most appropriate remedy is to file an insurance claim. And I don’t know why that option wasn’t explored.”
In addition to the demand letter to Willard, as reported last week in The Landmark the county commission has asked for a criminal investigation into the matter. The commission says in a letter to Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd that it believes the treasurer violated a state statute, which it says would be a misdemeanor charge.
“The statute goes on to state that any county treasurer who fails to perform his duties in the express manner provided by law shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished by a fine of between $100 and $500 and the treasurer’s office shall become vacant.”
The commission in its letter asked the prosecutor to “review and investigate” the matter.”
“I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Willard said of the commissioners asking for a criminal investigation of the treasurer.
“There was a criminal involved in what happened but that was the email spoofer, not me,” Willard told The Landmark Tuesday.
“Mine was a mistake. It was not malice,” he added.
“It’s just inappropriate to be pursuing that line of action when we should be focusing on recovering the money,” Willard stated.
Zahnd answered the commission’s letter with a memo of his own, in which he explained that his office “is not an investigative agency. I suggest the commission report any crime it believes has been committed to the appropriate law enforcement agency for investigation.”
Zahnd explained in his letter that if an investigation is conducted and investigative reports are submitted to his office, he would then ask the presiding judge to appoint a special prosecuting attorney to review the matter.
Appointment of a special prosecutor in such a case is “as I have done with previous allegations of wrongdoing by high ranking county officials,” Zahnd said in his memo. Zahnd added the fact that Willard formerly served as an assistant prosecuting attorney under him further warrants the reasoning for a special prosecutor if a case is submitted for potential prosecution.
Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, announced during the regular county commission meeting on Monday that Mark Owen, county sheriff, has told him the sheriff’s office would review the situation and investigate the possibility of any criminal wrongdoing.
Schieber also announced that the commissioners would send a letter to Platte County Circuit Court Judge James Van Amburg asking him to appoint a special prosecutor.
But Zahnd pointed out that only the county prosecutor can ask the judge to appoint a special prosecutor. Zahnd said he would, in fact, ask the judge to do that if an investigation is conducted.
“A special prosecuting attorney would review investigative reports, determine whether the filing of any charges is appropriate, and pursue whatever charges, if any, are filed,” Zahnd said.
Meanwhile, Willard says the goal should remain on recovering the money.
“I’m willing to talk to and work with anybody to make sure the matter gets resolved quickly. I strongly want the matter to be resolved quickly so that we can move forward,” he said.
“A one-week deadline is a bit rushed. I want to make sure that we find a solution. There just hasn’t been any real discussion of a solution besides the demand."
Schieber, during Monday's county commission meeting said: "This commission is committed to doing the right thing. This is a bad situation. We will continue to work to recover the money."
Beverlee Roper, first district commissioner, followed Schieber's comments with: "All eyes are one it."
Duane Soper, second district commissioner, praised Schieber for "keeping everyone informed" on what is going on in regard to the situation.