Despite council rebuff, Dooley plans to continue pushing for forensic audit

Quinn says he prefers to have auditor who reports directly to County Council

By Gloria Lloyd

Despite getting rebuffed by the County Council on a proposal for a forensic audit of the Department of Health, County Executive Charlie Dooley says he is bringing the plan back every week until the council approves it.

Last week, Dooley recommended the council hire an outside auditor, Clayton-based accounting firm RubinBrown LLP, for $95,000 to examine exactly how a Department of Health administrator, Edward Mueth, carried out a fraud estimated at up to $3.5 million that went undetected over six years, before he killed himself last fall.

The council balked, however, and suggested the audit is a conflict of interest, leading to a testy exchange between Dooley and 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, one of his opponents in the Aug. 5 Democratic primary for county executive.

“You’ve had a deputy director that embezzled funds for five years, and it went unaddressed,” Stenger told Dooley at the May 27 meeting. “When it was finally addressed, 30 days were let lapse, and the man committed suicide. That’s certainly not proper procedure.”

“Again, the county executive’s office did not take any money, so that is not the problem,” Dooley said. “The problem is resolving this issue with the proper experts to look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

Mueth, a health department administrator, apparently created a phony company to win inflated bids on county computer contracts, which he oversaw himself. Years into the fraud, after fellow employees noticed discrepancies in the contracts, Mueth killed himself.

Dooley’s recommended auditor, RubinBrown, was selected through the county’s usual request-for-proposals, or RFP, process, and submitted the lowest responsible bid of $95,000, according to documents Dooley gave the council.

Seventh District Councilman Greg Quinn, R-Ballwin, told Dooley he prefers the audit be handled through an auditor that would report directly to the council, such as the county’s own auditor. County Counselor Pat Redington said Quinn “seemed confused,” since RubinBrown would be an independent, outside auditor whose findings will be public and not vetted by anyone.

Quinn and the other council members at the May 27 meeting, 5th District Councilman Pat Dolan, D-Richmond Heights, and 4th District Councilman Michael O’Mara, D-Florissant, have typically aligned with Stenger over the past year to hold up or oppose a series of Dooley initiatives, including a proposal for a soccer park public-private partnership that competes with a similar project of O’Mara’s.

The county auditor, who reports to the council, is a county employee who regularly audited the health department and the entire county during Mueth’s theft and found no wrongdoing, Dooley noted.

“He found nothing wrong with what we were doing,” Dooley said. “So that is not the answer. What we need is an outside auditor.”

Stenger disputed that the facts of Mueth’s theft are not fully evident already.

“Pat, you’re making it sound like this was some kind of a complex scheme,” Stenger told Redington. “It was $3-plus million spent on computers that cost us $60,000 to buy. So if you need an audit to determine how to avoid that … perhaps those people (counter-signing the checks) should look a little closer at what they’re leasing.”

“Well, it’s great that you have the answers without having gone through an investigation,” Redington replied. “I think RubinBrown will be surprised to hear that they’re not considered independent anymore.”

“Nobody’s saying that,” Stenger said. “Their independence is being compromised by your procedure.”

The county has never undergone a forensic audit, said Dooley spokeswoman Pat Washington, who believes Stenger made the case for a forensic audit himself when he mentioned the counter-signatures and approvals that Mueth’s computer contracts went through — including the council itself, which approves health department contracts.

“If Mr. Stenger had even listened to himself during his tirade, what he said doesn’t even make any sense — because out of his mouth, he said these contracts go through all these different signatures and approvals and yet it still happens. So let’s look at those signatures and approvals,” she told the Call. “That includes the County Council.”

The audit should have been no surprise to the council, since Dooley has said since Mueth’s fraud was discovered last fall that he planned to ask for a forensic audit, Washington added.

Stenger told the Call last year that if he is elected county executive, he will conduct a full forensic audit of every county department. But for now, he made it clear that he does not trust Dooley to oversee the same thing.

Washington said Friday that no one from the council had contacted Dooley to discuss the audit.

“Not a peep,” she said. “The cameras are gone, so not a word.”