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County clerk investigates state association

by Sheila Gardner

For many professionals, the annual convention is a chance to talk shop with the only people who really understand what you do, and maybe, play a little golf.

Douglas County Clerk-Treasurer Barbara Reed, who also served as president of the state’s County Fiscal Officers Association, approached last year’s annual convention in Mesquite with a similar outlook.

Was she wrong.

Earlier this year, Clark County treasurer and CFOA member Mark Aston – who set up last year’s Mesquite convention – pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement after he admitted taking more than $20,000 from the state organization.

“This has been extremely disappointing to us,” said Reed. “We are elected officials and the public trust has been given to us. We do not condone this type of behavior. We expect our fellow elected officers to adhere to a higher standard of accountability.”

Aston will be sentenced March 26 in Clark County, due in large part to the efforts of Reed who launched the investigation of the discrepancies in how the former elected official handled convention finances for the organization of 120 state clerks, treasurers, recorders, auditors, comptrollers and chief deputies.

Reed said CFOA treasurer Susan Harrer, who is the Humboldt County clerk, became suspicious when she couldn’t get an accounting from Aston for convention expenses. Traditionally, the officer from the host community organizes the convention.

“Our conference cost is usually covered by sponsors,” Reed said. “That means it could be different financial institutions, title companies, accounting firms, election and microfilm vendors – people who work with us. They come and put on demonstrations, sponsor different events.”

Reed said Aston refused to provide information and kept asking the organization for more money.

“At first we thought there has got to be a logical explanation. Then we couldn’t believe what was happening. We experienced all range of emotions – hurt, anger, dismay and sadness,” Reed said.

He has been ordered to repay the money to the organization.

She initiated the investigation into the convention expenses, assisted by the Bank of America.

“The investigation reached all over the United States,” she said. “Our sponsors included the Bank of New York and a financial firm in Michigan. It wasn’t just Nevada. There were a lot of firms from outside.”

Reed said Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle assisted her.

“After I had pretty substantial information that we were missing funds, I talked to Scott. He, in turn, assisted me and we sent everything to the Clark County district attorney. They continued the investigation through their metro fraud division.”

Reed said Aston, who was paid more than $86,000 a year as Clark County treasurer, never divulged what happened to the money, which has not been recovered.

“He has absolutely refused to talk,” she said.

As part of Aston’s plea bargain, the Clark County district attorney won’t make any recommendation at his sentencing. But Reed intends to be there along with other CFOA officers.

“I’m going to ask for jail time,” she said. “It’s not just the money. It was our feeling as the (CFOA) executive board that he should be prosecuted to the maximum because of the public trust. As elected officials, we all took the oath of office that says we will uphold the laws of this state and Constitution. I took that oath very seriously. It’s very upsetting and insulting when an elected officer in any position has no respect or regard for the position that he holds or the oath that he’s taken. His actions put a cloud over government.”

Reed said as a result of the embezzlement, the organization has tightened procedures.

“We never, never had any problems before,” she said. “This was our first time in Clark County.”

This year’s convention is in Fallon.

“We’ve decided to keep it in smaller communities. It helps the economy. We’re small when you compare us to the bigger conventions. The small counties are thrilled to have us come,” Reed said.

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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