Rock Island Co. board chairman, sheriff announce investigation into theft of over $115,000 from the county

Rock Island County officials announced an ongoing investigation into a suspected theft of more than $115,000 from the county through wire fraud.
Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 11:45 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 13, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND Co., Ill. (KWQC) - Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos and Rock Island County Board Chairman Richard Brunk Friday announced an ongoing investigation into a suspected theft of more than $115,000 from the county through wire fraud.

At a press conference, Bustos said the Rock Island County Auditor’s Office on June 1 received an email purportedly by a contract company that does business with the county. The email requested that future payments be made through “Automatic Clearing House” and that the company changed its banking accounts. This turned out to be a fraudulent email, Bustos said.

The first payment was sent by the county on June 18 for $97,042.52 to the suspected fraudulent account, he said. A second transaction, this one totaling $18,061.40, was authorized and sent by the Rock Island County Auditor’s Office on July 23.

Bustos said the investigation was opened on July 28 after being reported to the Rock Island County Treasurer’s Office and the Auditor’s Office by the county’s financial institution.

From June 18 to July 27, the suspected account was partially drained through issued checks, online transfers, ATM withdrawals, and debit card transactions. The account is currently frozen and has a balance of around $9,000, Bustos said.

“This is a very serious situation with a significant amount of taxpayer dollars. It clearly represents a concern into the operations of the Auditor’s Office,” Brunk said.

Brunk said he requested the employee in the auditor’s office be placed on administrative leave during the investigation and called for a forensic audit to make sure no other fraudulent payments were issued. He also said the county will “identify best practices” to prevent wire fraud in the future.

Neither Brunk nor Bustos identified a suspect or suspects in the ongoing criminal investigation.

Rock Island County officials announced an ongoing investigation into a suspected theft of more than $115,000 from the county through wire fraud.

CEO of Midland Technologies, Jason Smith, says it’s crucial you be scrutinous of any payments requested - especially if they’re online. He recommends “double and triple-checking it. And I even recommend a phone cal to the vendor you think you might be paying,” in order to protect yourself and your money.

In a letter sent by the Rock Island County Auditor April Palmer Friday afternoon, she explains further what happened and what her office plans to do to prevent incidents in the future:

“As the public was made aware this afternoon, an employee of my office was the victim of an email scam which resulted in the inadvertent transfer of over $115,000 to a fraudulent account before it was caught and stopped. The employee was led to believe by receiving a direct deposit request and a bank letter, that the payments were being sent to a long-time vendor of the County’s.

Upon notice of this fraudulent payment, I immediately contacted our Sheriff’s Department and have provided them with all documents and information they have requested. I and my staff, will continue to work with law enforcement until those responsible for this crime are found. As an Elected Officer, I pledge to do everything possible to help recoup these dollars and will continue to update processes to fight the unfortunate ever-growing attacks suffered through on-line and email cyber-crimes. I have already begun to update work processes and talk to other offices about procedures that can be put in place to ensure this never happens again. Additional employee assistance is a huge help through measures such as County-wide training on cybercriminals and more security measures. If the money cannot be recovered then it will be paid out of the Liability Insurance Fund as the County is self-insured for liability incidents. As a lifelong resident and taxpayer of Rock Island County, I take this attack on our assets very seriously. We should not have to endure outside parties taking them for personal gain. I will continue to cooperate, revamp, and maintain the highest standard of internal auditing necessary to keep our money safe!

An ongoing internal office investigation is underway, and no disciplinary action has been taken. No county employees have been found guilty of any criminal activity.”

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