Jackson County’s former county clerk pled guilty Thursday to two counts of theft over $2,500.
The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office found Amanda Stafford stole at least $25,643 between May, 2018 and December, 2019. The office found she used the money collected by the county from residents to pay personal expenses.
Stafford resigned earlier this month.
“We see theft, fraud, waste and abuse in many, many government entities across the state of Tennessee,” Comptroller’s Office Communications Director John Dunn said. “And what we frequently see as a cost to that is that no one is watching over someone else’s shoulder. In other words, someone is being trusted with a job to handle cash or money and no one is looking over that person’s shoulder to make sure they’re doing the right thing.”
The state found a “lapping scheme” Stafford used to conceal the theft. According to the Comptroller’s report, Stafford would take cash from one day’s collections and replace it with money collected on subsequent days.
“The clerk would actually keep some of the cash that she was collecting each day and then later in subsequent days when she was receiving more money into her office, she would use that cash to substitute for the money that she’d already taken,” Dunn said.
In a six-month period, Dunn said Stafford failed to deposit some $326,000 within two weeks of receipt.
She further altered at least 52 vehicle registration applications to conceal more than $11,000 in theft. In one example, the clerk received $120.50 from a taxpayer. Stafford altered the application by removing the cost of the vehicle, the related sales tax, and the wheel tax. The clerk records showed just $40 collected. Stafford kept the difference.
State officials discovered the theft when state auditors did a surprise cash count at the clerk’s office in October, 2018.
“As part of our annual audit process, we send auditors to nearly every county in Tennessee,” Dunn said. “And it’s not uncommon for them to do a surprise cash count when they’re in county offices. And that’s how they discovered this particular theft in Jackson County.”
Dunn said auditors often see situations where jobs are not designed with checks and balances in place.
“Make sure you separate financial responsibilities, have good oversight, because when you don’t, it opens up the door to fraud, waste and abuse,” Dunn said.