(BROWNSTOWN) - The former coordinator and treasurer for the Jackson County Soil and Water Conservation District was "confused" by a state audit that uncovered numerous unauthorized payments she's accused of making, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Nick Hendrik, of The Jackson County Banner reports, Rebecca Lauster, 50, Brownstown, was charged with six counts of theft, a Class D felony.
Police believe Lauster committed the alleged crimes between February 2009 and May 2011. A judge last week entered a not-guilty plea on her behalf at an initial hearing and Lauster bonded out of the Jackson County Jail, pending a pre-trial hearing in May.
In October, the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office requested that state police investigate the findings of an audit the Indiana State Board of Accounts performed on the district's records between Jan. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2011. According to the audit, Lauster allegedly made numerous unauthorized transactions with the district's credit card and left an outstanding balance on a second, unauthorized credit card she opened in the district's board president's name.
After reviewing the audit, speaking to the board's president, Tim Hoevener, and contacting a board of accounts field supervisor who assisted with the audit, Indiana State Police Detective Rachel Eickholtz interviewed Lauster at the Seymour Police Department in late November. Another state police detective accompanied Eickholtz, according to the affidavit.
Eickholtz said Lauster told her that previous audits on the office never found any wrongdoings. According to Eickholtz, Lauster said she performed her responsibilities the same way she had in previous years.
The audit found that Lauster allegedly paid for unauthorized service on two cell phones using district funds. District policy allowed her to pay only one phone's bill with the district's credit card. Total expenses accumulated on the two unauthorized phones was $1,879, according to the audit.
Lauster explained to Eickholtz that her husband used one of the phones and her son the other, the affidavit states. She blamed the phone company for inadvertently listing the numbers on the district's account rather than on her personal credit card. When Lauster discovered the mistake, according to the affidavit, she began also paying the phone company from her personal funds.
According to the affidavit, when Eickholtz told Lauster it didn't make sense that the phone company was being paid twice, Lauster couldn't clarify her statement. Lauster also couldn't explain to the detective why she was paying for part of the bills and not another, according to the affidavit.
Lauster repaid the district for the $1,879.22 in unauthorized cell phone service, as well as all of the other allegedly misappropriated funds. She also reimbursed the state $4,535.74 for the costs of the audit. In all, Lauster paid back $13,607.22, according to the affidavit.
Lauster doesn't have a listed phone number in Brownstown directories, and no one answered the door at her Francis Street residence Friday, March 29.
Her attorney, Mark Dove, declined to comment on the case when reached at his North Vernon office Monday, April 1.
The audit also discovered 63 disbursements on the district's credit card for apparent non-district related purchases, including two handbags and Disney World park passes. And the audit uncovered multiple fuel purchases on the district's credit card and mileage reimbursements for the same day as she bought the fuel.
During the interview with Eickholtz, according to the affidavit, Lauster said district policy regarding mileage reimbursement had changed but she claimed the miles regardless. Earlier in the interview, she also said she received no training for the board-elected position and claimed the rules and regulations were never explained.
Hoevener told Eickholtz that Lauster was fully informed of the district's cell phone and credit card policy, according to the affidavit. When asked if he'd previously believed Lauster was misappropriating funds, Hoevener said one of the district's other board members inquired why they were not receiving credit card statements from Lauster's office.
The affidavit further states that the member was not re-elected and the issue wasn't again confronted until after the audit.
Lauster's employment was terminated from the district October 1, an employee said last week. That's after the audit was completed, Hoevener told Eickholtz, according to the affidavit. While gathering Lauster's belongings, Hoevener said he discovered a statement for a second credit card Lauster allegedly opened in May 2009 under his name.
Police said Lauster left an outstanding balance of $7,965.37 on the account, for which she is currently sending monthly reimbursements to the district. When Eickholtz asked Lauster about the second credit card, Lauster said she was prompted to open it by an offer that was mailed to her residence.
Since the offer did not arrive at the district's offices, she said she believed she committed no wrongdoing by opening the account.
Eickholtz provided a copy of her interview with Eickholtz to the prosecutor's office for review, as well as subpoenaed records from the credit card Lauster allegedly opened without district permission. Jackson Circuit Court issued a warrant for Lauster's arrest on Tuesday, March 19 and she turned herself in to jail the following Tuesday.
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