Board seeks more than $20,000 from former treasurer

A former official with the Jackson County Soil & Water Conservation District has been asked to reimburse the district $20,642.08 related to an audit revealing misuse of public funds.

The State Board of Accounts also is asking Rebecca Lauster to reimburse it $11,984.64 for the cost of the investigation into the misuse of funds that occurred during her time as coordinator and treasurer of the district from Jan. 1, 2009, through Oct. 1, 2012.

The 55-year-old former Brownstown resident could not be reached for comment.

The state also could not contact her by phone or certified mail to ask her to attend a May 17 meeting to discuss the findings of the audit with the State Board of Accounts.

The state has forwarded that audit, released Aug. 30, to the Office of the Indiana Attorney General and the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Chalfant said Thursday the case is under review at this time and more information is being sought.

Lauster’s employment with the district was terminated Oct. 1, 2012, after the district’s president of the board of supervisors found she had applied and obtained a credit card in the district’s name without the board’s knowledge or approval and then used the card for personal use.

The state initially conducted an audit in 2013 that showed Lauster had used the unauthorized card for phone bills, personal travel to Florida and California, entrance fees to Yosemite National Park, two one-day passes to Walt Disney World and travel insurance.

After the audit, Lauster repaid the district $13,607.22, which included the cost of the investigation. She also received a two-year suspended sentence in Jackson Circuit Court after pleading guilty to one count of theft. Five additional counts of theft were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

The restitution to the district and State Board of Accounts included $6,937.64, which was the balance on the unauthorized credit card at the end of March 2013.

The findings of the second audit, conducted this spring by a field examiner, uncovered $11,984 in additional unauthorized purchases and late fees and finance charges on the unauthorized credit card. Those charges did not show up on the credit card bill in March 2013 during the first audit because they had been paid with district funds by Lauster, according to the audit.

The new audit also showed Lauster had received reimbursements of $7,180.81 for expenses for attending Indiana Envirothon meetings or competitions from 2009 to 2012 even though she had paid those expenses with the district’s business credit card. Instead of repaying the district, she cashed the checks and kept the money, according to the audit.

Besides those reimbursements and the special investigation costs, the state is asking Lauster to reimburse the district for $383.76 for payments without supporting documentation; $539.56 in unidentified electronic funds transfers and $191.47 in penalties, interest and other charges.