by Ivan Foley
The personal funds of the duped county treasurer will be used to cover the remaining balance of county funds that were lost when the he fell victim to an email scam earlier this year.
Rob Willard this week provided the county with a certified check in the amount of $25,822.56. That amount covers roughly $20,000 that had remained unrecovered from the $48,200 Willard wired to a scammer the Friday before Memorial day. The extra $5,800 covers legal fees the county had incurred because of the loss, officials said.
A release and satisfaction of claim approved by the county commission Monday indicates the county “recognizes said amount as being in full and complete reimbursement of the county’s loss sustained.”
On May 27, in response to a fraudulent email purporting to be from Platte County Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber, Willard failed to follow county procedures and instead wired the money per the scammer’s instructions.
“My goal from the moment I discovered the wire fraud incident in May was to ensure that all funds were recovered and the taxpayers were made whole. Accordingly, I agreed to personally repay the remaining balance of the funds lost due to the fraud,” Willard told The Landmark this week.
“A drawn out insurance process to recover the funds would not be in best interests of the citizens of Platte County and the time and resources spent on the matter over the last five months must be refocused on the needs of our community. I feel that my decision is the only way that could happen,” Willard added.
The county’s acceptance of the payment from Willard has no impact on the law enforcement investigation of the matter. The Platte County Sheriff’s Department performed an investigation of the situation, with the findings now in the hands of the Missouri Attorney General’s office, serving as a special prosecutor in the matter. The attorney generals office has had the investigative report in its hands for months now and an announcement of whether any charges will be filed has yet to be made.
The county will still be cooperating with the special prosecutor, if needed, in regard to any further proceedings regarding the transaction, Schieber said Monday.
“I deeply regret my mistake and apologize to the citizens of Platte County,” Willard said Tuesday.
The county’s release and satisfaction of claim in accepting Willard’s personal payment states the county “withdraws and releases any and all monetary claims arising” from the incident against Willard personally or against the public official bond of the treasurer.
Schieber said Willard approached the county commission recently and said “let’s get this done.”
“I’m glad it’s coming to an end. Our job was to get the money back. It took us a while. This is full recovery of the loss,” Schieber said.
In the days after the scam, Wells Fargo Bank was able to recover slightly more than $28,000 of the wired funds. The effort to recover the remaining $20,000 had been unsuccessful, which eventually led to this week’s action of Willard providing a certified check.
Willard fell for a series of messages sent from a spoof email account purporting to be Schieber. Willard authorized the $48,200 wire transfer from the county’s general fund at UMB to be sent to a Wells Fargo Bank account in Florida. The business name on the account was Shmonah Trust in Tamarac, Fla.
Willard admitted he sent the transfer without following the county’s procedures and protocol for paying bills.
“That was a mistake on my part. I thought because of the time-sensitive nature of the transaction from what I thought was the commissioner, that’s why I took the actions I did. That was clearly a mistake,” Willard said at the time.
Willard, completing his first term in office, was reelected without opposition at Tuesday’s election. The controversy erupted after the filing deadline for county office had already passed.