Farmington — Since a 2012 embezzlement scandal, the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau has taken steps to safeguard against future fraud -- but experts still caution against complacency.
The bureau hired Solga & Jakino P.A., a private consulting firm that files monthly financial reports and annual bureau audits to the board, Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts said.
Two city officials sit on the board now. They are Andy Mason, director of Administrative Services, and Cory Styron, director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, according to a list provided by the bureau.
The board more closely scrutinizes its invoices and checks after former director Debbie Dusenbery allegedly embezzled nearly $500,000 from the bureau over 6 years ending in 2012.
Now, all invoices must be approved by two board members, and two out of the three members on the signature card have to sign checks, Bureau Executive Director Tonya Stinson said. Those checks are kept now at the contracted accounting firm's office, she said.
"We have a very structured procedure," she said.
Richard Brody, a Douglas Minge Brown Professor of Accounting at the University of New Mexico, said it's good that the bureau requires more oversight now when signing checks. But still, he said, the bureau has to follow those established safeguards. It has to ensure that its checks aren't pre-signed, as the former executive director had done. And contracting an accounting firm isn't a cure-all to fraud either, he said.
In 2009 it was discovered that Kathy Borrego, the former business manager for the Jemez Mountain School District, had been embezzling. She stole an estimated $3.4 million, according to a May 9, 2010, report in the Albuquerque Journal.
Three months before her embezzlement was discovered the district had received a clean audit report from Accounting & Consulting Group LLP, an independent firm, according to the report.
"What I always say is you can't depend on your accounting firm to prevent fraud," Brody said.
For all fraud, there are always the same three ingredients, he said: pressure, opportunity and rationalization.
Sometimes the one committing fraud is a gambling addict or is living beyond her means and thinks she needs the money, he said.
That individual must be able to bypass the organization's securities, too, he said. The person must gain the trust of members who write checks to be successful.
Then that person begins to rationalize the theft, he said, thinking they need the money or that it isn't stealing; it's borrowing.
"Obviously (the bureau has) to respond in some way, and that is a good response," he said, "but I would ask, 'Did they have a control in place before?'"
The bureau did have procedures, according to the forensic audit of the scandal, but many weren't followed. Instead of clearing checks with board members, Dusenbery had a stack of pre-signed checks that she used to fund personal expenses, according to the audit.
The problem was that Dusenbery had gained the board's trust, said Brandon Jakino, who performed the audit, and that allowed her to bypass the bureau's securities.
At minimum, Brody said, the bureau has to ensure that its internal controls are being followed this time.
"You (have) got to learn from your mistakes," he said, "and the controls that weren't being followed before need to be followed now."