In Ploy To Deflect Malfeasance Charges, Newberry CSD Wants Leakers Prosecuted

NEWBERRY SPRINGS—Governmental secrecy has made it difficult to discern whether accusations of misfeasance/malfeasance/embezzlement within the Newberry Springs Community Services District that surfaced this summer have substance. What is slightly clearer is that officials in the district, perhaps even those suggested to be involved in what is said to be the disappearance of the money that touched off the entire contretemps, are pressing the district attorney’s office to investigate and prosecute those who are apparently responsible for making the accusations with illegally disclosing confidential information relating to the district’s bank account, the very account from which money is said to have disappeared.
In late August, an unsigned letter was sent to the San Bernardino County Local Agency Formation Commission and the San Bernardino County Grand Jury and some media outlets alleging $57,000 in funds was missing from the Newberry Springs Community Service District’s account. Though the letter was unsigned, it was endorsed by “two (2) concerned directors.”
Within a fortnight, Newberry Springs Community Services District Treasurer Kerri Zurcher responded publicly with a letter stating that the accusation had no merit and that rather than $57,000 being misappropriated, there was actually a surplus of $56,562.97 in what Zurcher described as a “checking account as reserve funds. These funds are by no means missing I’m not finding any discrepancies as far as how the items listed at the bottom the [supplemental 2014-15 income/expenditure] report are accounted for, as all of those transactions were applied to the appropriate accounting categories.”
Zurcher indicated that the placement of the $56,562.97 in the checking account was a temporary arrangement that would last only “until such a time comes where I, as district treasurer, make a recommendation to the board of directors that we move those funds into a more permanent reserve account.”
Not directly stated in Zurcher’s letter though vaguely suggested was that the $56,562.97 in the reserve account explained the mistaken impression of those responsible for the letter to the Grand Jury and Local Agency formation commission that the money was missing or had been mishandled.
Zurcher and Newberry Springs Community Service District General Manager Le Hayes offered assurances that a district policy requiring each district check to be signed by two directors provided a double safeguard against money being misappropriated.
A month later, toward the end of September, district officials were still seeking to minimize the significance of and discredit the August letter, while questioning its provenance, suggesting it may not have originated with anyone on the board. Simultaneously, it was suggested that the actual author of the letter, who some officials endeavored to portray as a disgruntled troublemaker or troublemakers, were known, though he/she or they were not identified.
Less than two weeks later, district officials, who had confidently pronounced that the report of the missing $57,000 was an outright fabrication, were blindsided by another attack on the integrity of the district’s accounting and financial controls when copies of cashed Newberry Springs Community Service District checks, some of which bore only a single signature, surfaced. Some of those checks were mailed to Newberry Springs residents and media outlets. Accompanying the checks was a statement that faulty numbers had been placed into the “proposed 2015-2016 budget for the Newberry CSD. Based on warrant registers presented and doing simple calculations the numbers are not presented accurately. In the days and age of computers with checks and balances this shouldn’t ever happen. Basing tomorrow’s numbers on inaccurate numbers from the past does not a healthy budget make,” the accompanying statement read.
Some district board members expressed alarm at what they characterized as “unauthorized access” to the district’s banking account information and documents. At that point, the district attorney’s office was called upon to undertake an investigation of the matter.
Statements now emanating from the district – Hayes and Zurcher in particular – indicate that the district attorney’s investigators are hot on the trail of at least two individuals believed to have either defeated the on-line banking security protocol used by Desert Community Bank, to which the Newberry Springs Community Services District entrusts its funds, or one or two individuals who have misused the access they had to the account based upon their status with the district. Further access to the district account information by those individuals has been terminated, the Sentinel is informed. Revelation of who those individuals are is just weeks and possibly even days away, as the district attorney’s office ties up any remaining loose ends pertaining to the case and comes to a determination as to whether criminal charges are to be filed against the individuals in question, it has been suggested. According to cryptic statements by district officials, those responsible for the “unauthorized disclosures” now know that they have been identified.
Informed conjecture using the process of elimination would seem to indicate that the likely suspects for the leak of information are board directors Robert Vasseuer, Robert Royalty or Paula Deel or individuals close to or associated with them. Board president Robert Springer and director Robert Shaw demonstrated by their reactions to the leaks that they were genuinely perturbed by the compromising of district banking account information. Both were stridently dismissive of the suggestions contained in the August letter, as well. Vasseuer has publicly mentioned repeated complaints from district residents pertaining to the district’s failure to respond to public information requests. That issue was specifically raised in the August letter. Moreover, references made to the district budget in the letter and in communication from those leaking the checks are extrapolated from a preliminary budget document that was supplied to the board in July, which is seen as a further indication that those responsible for the letter are indeed members of the board or connected to them.
Nevertheless, the focus on the alleged wrongdoing of the individuals responsible for presenting to the public the district’s checking account information has diverted attention away from the gist of what the letter writers – whoever they are – were saying, which is that public money is being mishandled, perhaps, inadvertently, perhaps negligently, perhaps incompetently, perhaps criminally.
The letter states, “Our community has spent the last four plus years being lied to and the bottom line is this is the community’s money and we all deserve to have a right and say as to how the monies are spent, Invoices paid to our state auditor only reflect a portion of the amount actually paid. Misappropriation of funds is a serious matter. We the community are tired of being ignored and there should be zero tolerance for repeated errors.”

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