State audit: Missing money, sloppy record keeping in Bessemer department; Mayor disagrees

(City of Bessemer)
Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 2:21 PM CST
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BESSEMER, Ala. (WBRC) - A state audit revealed the City of Bessemer Emergency Communications District is short more than $50,000, which wasn’t discovered for nine months due to poor record keeping, according to a new report.

Despite those findings, Bessemer Mayor Kenneth Gulley denies the District is missing money.

The Department of Examiners of Public Accounts report says the District didn’t perform legally-required monthly bank reconciliations. It also says the District wasn’t accounting for the revenue received to provide emergency communications services.

During the 24-month period that was audited, the agency posted revenues only six times. “The District failed to reconcile bank accounts on a monthly basis and did not discover fraudulent checks that were paid from the District’s bank account totaling $55,003.58 from July 2019 until April 2020,” it cited.

The audit indicates multiple unauthorized checks were deducted from the District’s bank account. Gulley confirmed an individual “forged an instrument” or created checks with the District’s bank information and those checks were cashed by a Wells Fargo bank branch. While he assured WBRC no city employee was involved, Gulley stopped short of saying how many checks were involved and who received the money.

According to the audit report, the missing money was reported to law enforcement and the city’s bank in April 2020. In September 2020, the District’s bank reimbursed $3,618.50. To date, $51,385.08 hasn’t been recovered.

When asked why the bank hadn’t reimbursed the remaining money, Gulley cited an ongoing investigation.

The mayor attributed the district’s non-compliant recordkeeping practices to the pandemic, despite records showing initial funds were withdrawn in July 2019. After noting the dates, Gulley then attributed it to department turnover and didn’t indicate changes were in the works to bring the District into compliance.

In fiscal years 2019 and 2020, the District distributed more than a quarter million dollars more than it brought in, according to a balance sheet included in the audit report. It ended the 2020 fiscal year in a $16,257.71 dollar deficit.

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