Audit: University of Iowa dental college staffer misspent $57,000

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has shored up its training and procurement practices after discovering a College of Dentistry administrative specialist amassed $57,313 in improper and unsupported spending on things like bath bombs, essential oils, luggage, iPad and camera equipment, and a canning system.

The Iowa State Auditor’s Office began investigating spending in the college’s Department of Periodontics for the period between Aug. 1, 2012 and Aug. 31, 2016 after UI officials flagged potential improper transactions, according to a report made public Thursday.

The suspect spending involved Amanda Shumaker, hired as the department’s administrative specialist on Aug. 27, 2012. Among her responsibilities, Shumaker bought the college’s books and supplies and arranged travel for staff. She had access to a university procurement card with a spending limit of $10,000 a month and a director Pcard capped at $4,000 a month, according to the audit.

Amid tightening budgets and Board of Regents demands its campuses run more efficiently, UI in 2015 developed a new Shared Services Department focused on trimming administrative costs, minimizing redundancies, improving policy compliance, and reducing errors. That department assigned staff to specific colleges, including the College of Dentistry in June 2016.

During a routine review of purchases in July 2016, Shared Services flagged a mismatch in what Shumaker said she bought and what the vendors said she got. Specifically, Shumaker reported purchasing textbooks but actually bought clothes, according to the audit.

Investigators suspect Shumaker had been doctoring documents to hide her personal use of university money for years.

UI placed her on administrative leave Aug. 1, 2016, and she died at age 34 on Aug. 20, 2016, according to the Scott County Medical Examiner’s Office. No criminal charges were filed against Shumaker before her death, according to online court records.

Based on personal purchases investigators believe Shumaker made in June and July 2016, the university withheld from her payroll and vacation payout $11,246.77. Shumaker’s family after her death launched a GoFundMe page for her three young children’s education. It has raised more than $5,000.

In breaking down the auditor findings, Shumaker is accused of making $52,897.26 improper disbursements and another $4,416.10 unsupported payments, meaning investigators couldn’t determine whether the charges were for personal use or department operations.

Throughout the report, auditors note misspending could have been higher — but verifying documentation didn’t always exist.

Shumaker’s improper purchases included $38,473.86 on Amazon for things like a “premium series” bed pillow, manicure and pedicure sets, kitchen utility spatula set, and gift cards to Starbucks, Nordstrom Rack, and Sur La Table; $5,202.50 on things like a Samsung Nook, magazine subscriptions, books on yoga and beer brewing, and journals from Barnes & Noble; and $9,220.90 on things like iPad accessories and essential oils from vendors like Plant Therapy.

Auditors, in their review, found the university could have done more to prevent the misspending — noting department officials did not always review claims closely. Had they, according to the audit, they would have found repeat purchases of the same book for the same doctor or library; mathematically inaccurate invoices; and other flags of suspicious spending.

Among the state’s recommendations is implementing procedures ensuring sufficient purchase documentation or explanation, allowing thorough supervisor reviews.

“Given the number of documents altered by Ms. Shumaker, the university should require original supporting documentation scanned into the university accounting system be retained for a year,” according to the audit.

Auditors also suggested the university establish and maintain inventory records to ensure proper insurance coverage and safeguard property; conduct periodical equipment inventory checks; and implement procedures to ensure the university disposes of equipment properly — including equipment kept in employee homes.

UI officials in response to Thursday’s audit release — which comes as the campus grapples with state funding cuts that have prompted a tuition hike, pay freeze, construction moratorium, center closures, and layoffs — reported the university ramped up training in budget review and oversight for all department chairs “immediately following the discovery of the unauthorized purchases.”

“The University of Iowa takes seriously its fiduciary responsibility to spend taxpayer and research dollars wisely and has several procedures in place to ensure this happens,” UI spokesman Anne Bassett said in a statement.

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