Audits reveal 'unauthorized disbursements' in Wascott
WASCOTT -- When Janice Newsome started to ask questions of local government in April 2008, her inquiries were met with hostility. This week, residents might have learned why some town officials grew guarded. The long-anticipated results of the 20...
WASCOTT -- When Janice Newsome started to ask questions of local government in April 2008, her inquiries were met with hostility.
This week, residents might have learned why some town officials grew guarded. The long-anticipated results of the 2007 and 2008 audits, the first performed since 1999, identified $72,426 in misappropriated funds. Under Wisconsin law, the audits are required annually because the clerk and treasurer roles are combined.
"To me, that seems like an awful lot of money that was embezzled from taxpayers in the town of Wascott," Newsome said. The expenses for "non-town" disbursements ended in May 2008, when Newsome -- then just a town resident -- started seeking public records to get answers to her questions about the town's finances.
"It was discovered during the audit process that certain credit card disbursements were paid that appear to be reimbursing the former clerk/treasurer for non-town expenditures," according to the 2008 audit report released Wednesday on the town's Web site. "The amounts discovered for 2008 ... were $7,887. In prior years there was an additional amount of $64,539 that was identified as unauthorized disbursements."
Last year, after the Wisconsin Department of Justice launched an investigation into the matter, the town's then-clerk/treasurer, Val Bremanis, resigned her post.
"I am so sorry for what I did and especially that I hurt those who believed and trusted me," Bremanis wrote in her resignation letter to the board nearly a year ago. "All I can say is that I had a very bad lapse in judgment." She made no statement about what she did, except to explain that her husband, who she said wasn't involved, was taking on extra responsibilities as the town's assessor. Andy Bremanis, the town's former assessor, resigned last year, too.
To date, charges have not been filed that would implicate Val Bremanis in misappropriation of town funds.
Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank said he expects to make a charging decision or decisions relatively quickly once he has all the elements of the case gathered and discusses the matter with the state's justice department. He anticipated having final reports by month's end.
"There's potentially more than one suspect in different aspects of the investigation," Blank said.
Anderson, Hager, Moe, certified public accountants of Hayward, conducted the audits for 2007 and 2008, but they found the misappropriation of funds began in 2001.
Newsome said it ended up being a costly venture because the routine audit uncovered discrepancies -- such as having no record of cash receipts for 2007 or 2008 -- that prompted a deeper look into the town's finances.
"They had to spend many, many hours doing a forensic audit of records to come up with the final amount that was embezzled," Newsome said.
"My experience in these kinds of situations is they've just identified a fraction of what was lost, and a substantial number of the town's records are missing," said Supervisor Bob Beglinger, who was elected last year when nearly 72 percent of the town's eligible voters turned out and ousted its entire Town Board.
The audit reports show the town was operating under a flawed system, Newsome said.
The town already has implemented a number of the recommendations made by the auditors, Supervisor Doug Bush said. After the new board members took office in April, the three-member board implemented a new financial policy that meets most of the recommendations presented by the auditing firm. Other recommendations will be adopted soon.