170412_gateway_rs

Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway held a news conference Tuesday in Kansas City, Missouri, to point out issues with state transportation development districts.

A former bookkeeper for a road district in Clinton County has been accused of misappropriating more than $286,000 from the entity over a seven-year period, according to state auditor Nicole Galloway.

On Wednesday morning, Galloway released he office’s findings from an inquiry into the Plattsburg Special Road District, to which she gave a rating of “poor” stemming from the investigation.

According to the audit’s review, Ava Langner is accused of falsifying financial statements as a means of covering up misappropriations from the road district. She worked as the district’s secretary/treasurer from her appointment by its board in 2011 until her termination in October 2018.

Langner, who has not been charged with a crime, may have either created or modified other official records even after her firing by the district and the serving of a subpoena for documents by Galloway’s office, the report stated.

A whistleblower contacted the auditor’s office in late September 2018 concerning potentially fraudulent activity involving the district. Soon after, Galloway received a request from district officials to conduct the independent audit.

The audit found credit card statements showing Langner spent more than $14,000 on travel and entertainment expenses, including vendors such as Carnival Cruise Lines, Starlight Theatre, the Kansas City Royals, Silver Dollar City and Space Center Houston. She also used district funds to pay her personal and company utility bills, as well as for hotel stays, the audit found. She used more than $125,000 in district funds to pay personal credit card bills.

“Personal credit card statements showed she may have spent over $30,000 on business products to operate her two personal businesses, $17,000 at construction and home-improvement stores that may have been used in her husband’s construction company.”

Langner’s husband, Dean Langner, is the current mayor of Lathrop, Missouri, but is not under investigation in connection with the audit. News-Press NOW was unable to reach either the Langners or the road district commissioners for comment by late Wednesday afternoon.

In a late October tweet, Langner announced she was retiring from her accounting business in Lathrop.

Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Brandi L. McClain told News-Press NOW conversations continue among officials toward having a potential case to be developed within federal jurisdiction. The information has been referred to the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the FBI, with both agencies engaged in inquiries since last fall, because Galloway said the district has received some amount of federal funds.

Galloway alleged that Langner’s actions effectively drained the district’s bank accounts to the point where no road work could occur.

“This is just a brazen betrayal of taxpayers in Clinton County,” she said. “And what I find so frustrating, and makes me so angry, is that those monies were supposed to go to fix the roads in Clinton County.”

The report said Langner was found to have falsified the district’s published financial statements to conceal more than $131,000 of payments to her own company and almost $77,000 of payments on her credit card bills.

“We identified significant differences in receipts, disbursements and ending cash balances reported on published financial statements in comparison to the accounting records for 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014, that helped conceal the district’s declining financial condition,” said Galloway.

She said the district commissioners also illegally approved year-end bonuses to Langner and employees, and that Langner did not remit federal payroll taxes in a timely manner. Budgets were not prepared for the past eight years, and a financial report was not submitted to the auditor for 2012 through 2016. A financial report for 2017 was not filed in time.

The district has begun to take corrective steps listed in the audit, Galloway added.

The auditor’s office has on occasion released reports that allege misuse of municipal funds. One other recent audit from the area alleged that Mary L. Browning, former city clerk of Coffey, Missouri, in Daviess County, failed to deposit nearly $34,000 in utility payments. Browning faces a three-day trial in March 2020 on related charges.

“We find fraud in all different types of government, from small to large,” Galloway said.

Ray Scherer can be reached

at ray.scherer@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPScherer.