13 months later, Tiregate probe continues
More than a year after the decade-long theft of $1.1 million in tires was revealed to county officials, a means to account for county property is still in the works.
Vehicle Maintenance Director Chris Oakden died in a head-on traffic collision on April 24, 2017, after receiving notice he’d been dismissed.
The investigation into Oakden’s activities, which included installing tires and repairing county employees’ personal vehicles, was turned over to the Nevada Division of Investigation.
A grand jury report made public on March 21, indicated that Oakden was using county funds to buy tires and supplies, keeping what he was paid by the employees.
Unlike other issues investigated by the grand jury, the probe into the motor pool thefts was not the result of a complaint.
“The grand jury believed the issues facing the county were substantial and warranted an investigation to develop recommendations to safeguard taxpayer money and prevent future fraud and embezzlement,” grand jurors said in their report.
The grand jury documented at least two times the thefts could have been uncovered and stopped.
The first was in 2008, when a complainant’s lack of trust in the county’s whistleblower process kept it from being pursued.
Four years later, in 2012, the grand jury said that Human Resources initiated an investigation that was halted by county management.
An inquiry by the district attorney’s office at the time resulted in Oakden receiving a letter of reprimand from the public works director.
“That seemingly did not deter Mr. Oakden from his activities,” grand jurors said. “He used his position to manipulate the computer system in vehicle maintenance and to remove simple inventory controls. He also moved the bulk of his activity to offsite locations.”
Oakden was able to order, approve, purchase and receive inventory that had no possible use on county vehicles.
The following year, county accountant Vicki Moore told grand jurors she questioned the expenditures on tires.
That was the year tire purchases exceeded $100,000 for the first time, according to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.
She testified she was directed to conduct an internal audit, but couldn’t find the time.
“The audit did not occur because there was no time available…” Moore told grand jurors. “The audit never happened because the financial department was just too busy, and short staffed to complete the audit of fleet services.”
Moore, who was later appointed county chief financial officer, said the same concerns came up in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
The tally for tires during those three years was slightly more than $900,000.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars would have been saved if that internal audit had been conducted,” grand jurors said.
Moore resigned as chief financial officer on March 20, the day before the grand jury report was made public.
On March 20, 2017, District Attorney Mark Jackson said two employees came to the county manager with concerns about tires and reported tires could be on former or current county employees’ vehicles after they purchased them from Oakden.
Four days later, Jackson and County Manager Larry Werner decided to contact the Nevada Division of Public Safety to handle the criminal investigation, while Jackson conducted the internal investigation.
Jackson said three employees were fired as a result of the internal investigation.
An insurance claim for $1.024 million is waiting on the results of the state’s criminal investigation.
One of the grand jury’s recommendations was for the county to set up an asset management program designed to track its materials.
“Asset management programs can also help optimize planning, resource use and lower incidents of theft,” grand jurors said. “A properly used asset management program could have red-flagged the embezzlement that occurred.”
Commissioners decided on April 10 to set aside $250,000 in one-time funding for an asset management program.
Commissioner Nancy McDermid raised the issue toward the end of the final tentative budget hearing.
“If that’s something we believe is a critically important program or person, before we appropriate everything, we should determine where that might be,” she said. “We’re not against having an asset management program or manager. We’re not kicking the can down the road. We want to have more information in front of us, so we can put that program in place.”