The more we learn about the investigation into at least a decade of alleged thefts by an employee in the Franklin County Public Works Department, the more we're left wondering how something like this could have gone on for so long.
Former Public Works accountant Dennis M. Huston is suspected of stealing about $1.6 million by channeling checks to a defunct company for more than 10 years and pocketing the money himself.
Huston was arrested last month and subsequently, fired but has yet to be charged with a crime.
But he has a conviction for the very same type of scam in the 1980s, and served 21 months for that offense. He had been out of federal custody for that crime for just eight months when he was hired in May 1989 by Franklin County.
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Whether the county knew of his embezzling conviction when he was hired is still unclear. But it was made very apparent to officials when an anonymous letter was dropped on the doorstep of Franklin County Commissioner Rick Miller three years ago.
The letter alleged that Huston had falsified an invoice for tires that the county had never received and pocketed the payment. Sounds like a familiar pattern.
While the allegation was very specific and found to be without merit, the letter also raised verifiable questions about Huston's character and criminal past. It also encouraged investigators to look beyond the alleged fake tire purchase as well.
The letter apparently prompted an FBI investigation into Huston, but nothing came of it. That doesn't explain why it took another three years to uncover more serious allegations.
The letter certainly made county officials keenly aware that a careful examination of Huston's work was warranted in light of his conviction in Montana.
And that just leaves us with a bunch of questions. Did the county do its own audit after the letter in 2009? If not, why not. It would have seemed to make sense that additional scrutiny was due, despite the FBI's finding.
Did Huston's bosses pay more attention to his work? Did they verify purchases in the public works department? Apparently not, since the alleged theft was happening at the time and continued until January of this year.
How could so many people have missed what may turn out to be the theft of $1.6 million? Are there other fake companies and falsified invoices that are yet to be discovered?
The allegedly falsified invoices that have been reported didn't start showing up until half-way through Huston's tenure. Were there any thefts before then? Is the county looking into the vendors and invoices from that timeframe? Could this have been going on for more than two decades?
The list of questions is long. But the county had every opportunity to stop the alleged embezzlement in 2009, when it received the anonymous letter. Regardless of the FBI findings, the department should have been scrutinized from top to bottom, especially its budget, inventory and accounts payable.
The valid information in the letter about Huston's background was a red flag. If nothing else, it was an opportunity for county officials to make sure procedures were being followed.
It certainly should have triggered an internal audit, if for no other reason than to disprove the allegations and reassure county officials. And any supervisor over the public works department certainly would have cause to redouble scrutiny of purchases and inventory.
After all, the public works director and county commissioners have to give ultimate approval to expenditures. And by doing so, they verify that the goods and services associated had been received by the county.
In this case, approving checks to a defunct company -- over and over again -- certainly didn't meet that standard.
As we said, many questions remain about how the county handled the information internally when the letter was received in 2009.
On the surface, it looks as though the problem could have been uncovered and stopped years ago.