By John B. McCuskey
West Virginia State Auditor
Editor’s Note: This op-ed was released in July 2021, but is being reprinted as an accompanying piece to the Matt Young’s article on the Auditor’s Fraud Unit for the West Virginia Press Association.
According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 5% of all funds distributed from state or federal programs will eventually go toward fraudulent activities. These payments will be dispersed through a variety of methods including kickbacks from vendors, delayed payments, stringing contracts, ghost employees and vendors, no bid contracts, nepotism and whatever a thief can concoct. In my opinion, none of that is acceptable—not even 5%. A grand scheme or misusing the state P-Card, a crime is being committed and you will be caught.
Presently, the Public Integrity and Fraud Unit of the State Auditor’s Office has 41 active fraud cases and potentially a dozen more ongoing. This year alone, our case work resulted in seven felony charge convictions. Restitution to the state for misspent funds has already grown to $556,000. These are tax dollars that were spent fraudulently. This was your money. Our team includes four investigators, seven forensic accountants, and two fraud monitors who look for illegal P-Card purchases. We work with the Southern and Northern District federal prosecutors, plus we have special prosecutorial privileges in five counties.
The formula for fraud is motivation, such as addiction, or past due bills; rationalization, which is the feeling you are somehow due those dollars that do not belong to you; and opportunity, where there is no oversight or transparency and too much trust in one person.
The State of West Virginia is scheduled to receive in total more than two billion dollars from the American Rescue Plan. Counties and local governments could be handling more than $650 million of that total. Schedules of distribution have been given to all these entities for uniform spending and accountability. Leadership on the county, and local government levels have been eager and willing to put new technology in place, using our “Project Mountaineer” software for accountability. They know these funds are to go toward projects to benefit all taxpayers; spending the funds efficiently and effectively is always the goal. As we partner with these leaders, we know great projects will be accomplished.
When monitoring programs are in place, and citizens are vigilant, fraud comes out of the shadows into the light of day. If you are stealing federal or state funds, you will be caught and prosecuted. The ACFE has determined 40% of cases detected come from tips. Please, do not look the other way for someone you suspect of fraud.
Please call (833) WV-FRAUD or file an anonymous online report at www.wvsao.gov. Help us clean-up that 5%. This is your money.