State Auditor Nicole Galloway released an audit of the City of Center that detailed how the former clerk, Tracey Ray, misappropriated more than $300,000 in taxpayer funds. The audit, which focused on the period between January 2015 and July 2019, was performed by the Auditor’s Public Corruption and Fraud Division after information was received through the whistleblower hotline.
“This audit details a serious breach of public trust and exposes years of dishonesty at the expense of taxpayers. The abuses by the former clerk, which include using taxpayers’ dollars to pay for concert tickets and vacations in Branson, Colorado, and Las Vegas, are just egregious,” Auditor Galloway said. “The city must work to rebuild citizens’ trust by addressing the lack of oversight that allowed this to activity to occur and carry on for years.”
Last summer, a whistleblower contacted the State Auditor’s Office regarding a lack of financial reporting in the city. The office began investigating and was then contacted by the mayor who requested information to initiate an audit. Additional investigation revealed concerns specific to the clerk.
On July 2, 2019, after being questioned by city officials, the clerk was involved in an incident in which she exchanged gunfire with Ralls County Sheriff’s deputies. As a result, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office filed felony charges for assault and armed criminal action. The Board of Aldermen voted to terminate her employment on July 3, the same day the board formally requested an audit.
The audit found more than $200,000 in city funds were used to pay the former clerk’s personal credit card bills that included charges to Amazon, Walmart, hotels, restaurants, and a hair salon. City funds were also used to pay more than $35,000 of personal expenses, including tax bills, mortgage payments, and life insurance policy premiums.
After the board discontinued health insurance coverage for city employees in 2014, the former clerk used $62,000 in city funds to pay for a health insurance policy for herself and her family. Additionally, the audit found missing cash totaling at least $7,000 that was collected but never deposited. The audit also questioned a number of payments, transactions, and payroll disbursements that lacked proper documentation.
The audit found there was insufficient oversight of the former clerk, and she provided inaccurate financial information and falsified records to the board to cover up her actions. Lack of documentation related to compensation of city officials and employees also meant that it was difficult to determine the accuracy and appropriateness of some payroll payments. Additionally, the city has not obtained statutorily required financial audits or submitted required financial reports.
“My Public Corruption and Fraud Division has been working closely with local, state, and federal law enforcement throughout the audit and will continue to provide additional assistance now that the audit is complete,” Auditor Galloway said.
The complete audit, which received a rating of poor, can be found here.