An Alton accounting firm has been hired to conduct a forensic audit of the Franklin County Circuit Clerk's office for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
C.J. Schlosser Co. recommended a one-year audit at an estimated cost of $6,000, although Franklin County Circuit Clerk Jim Muir suggested the county examine records going back as far as 2013.
He said officials at Schlosser recommended the one-year audit but quoted a price between $25,000 to $35,000 to complete a four-year audit.
"We have tried to recreate the files we don't have. I liken it to putting together a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle when you have 250 pieces. We need somebody to go in there and dig deeper and get us to a place where we can move forward and put this behind us," Muir said.
A former employee of the office admitted to stealing fines and fees for an extended period of time -- reportedly the first occurring five days after she was hired. The employee eventually was criminally charged, convicted and sentenced for the crime.
Although Muir did not specifically call out the previous administration in the clerk's office, he said examining records during the 2013-14 fiscal year is "critical" because that's when the thefts occurred.
Another piece of the investigation is to determine how 500 missing files discovered by the county's auditor, Hudgens and Meyer, suddenly re-appeared.
"We found the files that were missing out of storage while the investigation was going on," Muir said. "There were 500 files we couldn't find. There were seven or eight people that went down there, including the sheriff, detectives and the auditor. I'm confident the files were not there. I went back down there after I was elected, and I saw this report that showed all these files that weren't available and they were all right there."
That investigation began in June 2014. The files were found by Muir in December 2016.
"I don't believe they were there because there were too many people that couldn't find them," he said. "They're very well marked and in boxes 18 inches wide and deep. With 500 files, you're talking about several boxes taken out of there."
County board members discussed how to pay for the audit. Muir said his office can cover most of the expenses.
"We've invested bond money that was laying in an account that was drawing .2 percent interest," he said. "We've invested $700,000 of that into a 2.5 percent (account) which will make $17,700 interest, so that's $15,000 a year. We're going after abandoned bond money. We've taken in $10,000 so far from that abandoned account for 20 years. So I think we're generating enough money from that office that we'll be able to pay a big chunk of it."
Muir said auditors should have the forensic audit completed within 30 days. They will report their findings to the county board, and the board then will determine if the audit should be extended to previous years.