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What Can Covington Learn From Florence?
Reported by Joe Webb
Florence Mayor Diane Whalen got an empty feeling in her stomach when she heard Covingtons finance director Bob Due was locked up. She has a two-inch-thick binder in her office of clippings from 11 years ago when she was facing a similar problem.
In 2002, long time Florence finance director Ron Epling was arrested for bilking the city out of millions. He died in prison after serving less than a year of a 16-year sentence. Whalen knows what Covingtons leaders are dealing with today: name calling and finger pointing. Shes not offering advice to her peers in Covington but she does have some advice for the citizens.
Put the blame where the blame belongs. And thats on somebody who took advantage of position and took advantage of trust and took advantage of their community.
Due was arrested Friday night after co-workers found about $300,000 in questionable transactions. According to police reports, Due was writing checks on city accounts to his wife, forging her signature to endorse them and depositing them in his personal account. Hes out on bond and restricted by electronic monitoring to his Independence home.
Whalen says she learned a lot from the Epling ordeal. Drastic changes were made to Florences finance department. They have split up duties that Epling did by himself. The finance director no longer opens all the mail. There are more checks and balances.
She encourages Covington to be thorough and take their time. Florence originally suspected Epling of stealing $125,000. When he was arrested, Epling told police it was between $1 million and $2 million. Whalen says the final tally was closer to $5 million.
It did take months of backtracking through records and backtracking through checks and following the path to determine what exactly happened and how much money was involved.
Whalen says the city of Florence was fortunate that Ron Epling invested the money he stole in homes and businesses. The city seized his assets and recovered most of what was taken. They got back the money but still lost in other ways.
It does destroy your basic gut trust in people. You do look at things with a different eye.