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Officials search for missing money taken during scam in June 2007

McDuffie County commissioners are calling in an outside auditing agency to help investigate nearly $4,000 that has been missing from county coffers for more than a year.

Meanwhile, Commission Chairman Charlie Newton and Vice-Chairman Sammie Wilson, Sr., plan to meet Monday morning with County Attorney Sammy Fowler and the staff of the county's finance department to air unspecified allegations against the department's director.

During a meeting that lasted nearly two hours Tuesday night - including a closed-door session that took 35 minutes, commissioners agreed 4-1 to pay the CPA firm Mauldin and Jenkins no more than $6,000 to complete a forensic audit of each county account.

"I want a good, hard look that there have not been any more fingers in our money," Mr. Newton said, adding that commissioners do not have a time-frame for the "fact-finding mission."

At issue is about $7,000 that was taken from a county account in June 2007 through two fraudulent transactions - one based in Texas and one in the Northeast.

The transactions were made possible by a "phishing" scheme sent to the county through an e-mail that was disguised to look like it was from one of the banks used by the county, according to Thomson-McDuffie IT Director Kelly Evans. That e-mail was an "exact" replica of a bank message and asked for pertinent account information from a county employee. Once that information was supplied, the perpetrator then apparently sold the information to others, because the two transactions seemed to be very different, Mrs. Evans said.

She said the culprits did not access any county files or infiltrate the county's firewall.

Mrs. Evans said once the transactions were discovered, she worked with bank investigators, County Manager Don Norton and employees from the county's finance department to track their source.

However, commissioners were not told about the missing money until just a few weeks ago - more than 15 months after the fraudulent transactions were completed. Along the way, the county did recoup about $3,300 taken in the scheme, Mr. Norton said.

Commissioner Fred Favors said finance department employees told him about the missing money on Oct. 21, and he then told Mr. Wilson and Mr. Newton. Soon after, the information was also shared with commissioners Darrell Wester and Bob Farr.

The missing money came to county commissioners' attention as they discussed allegations being lobbed at county Finance Director Jimmy Whitaker by three employees in his office.

Commissioners and Mr. Norton have not publicly detailed those allegations, and Mr. Newton said Tuesday they would remain private at least until Mr. Whitaker has a chance to answer to them.

Following Tuesday night's commission meeting, Mr. Whitaker said the allegations come down to one thing.

"They are trying to get me out," he said.

Web posted on Thursday, November 20, 2008

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