Audit: Clerk’s office failed to assess, collect fees; transfer funds

By: By William R. Toler - Editor
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ROCKINGHAM — A recent report from State Auditor Beth Wood’s office found that the Richmond County Clerk of Superior Court’s office identified “deficiencies in internal control and instances of noncompliance.”

The clerk’s office failed both to identify and transfer unclaimed funds to the State Treasurer or rightful owners and accurately assess or collect estate inventory fees, according to the audit.

Examining the February 2018 aging report, a monthly report that reflects all case level accounts being held and the amount of time funds have been held without activity, auditors identified 187 unclaimed items totaling $131,041. The report shows that 160 items ($95,786) should have been transferred: 89 (($53,895) to rightful owners from 2008-2017; 71 ($41,891) to the treasurer.

During the audit period, July 1, 2017 through Feb. 8, auditors say the clerk’s office transferred 56 unclaimed items ($5,945) to the treasurer.

Clerk of Superior Court Vickie Daniel told auditors that her employees “had an improper understanding of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts polices and procedures related to the timely review of the monthly aging reports.”

While examining 65 of 149 estates, auditors found seven that weren’t “accurately assessed or collected when the final inventory was filed,” totaling $312.

With two of the estates, the clerk’s office collected a total of $37 more that what was required. The assessment of another collected $6 less that was required.

For the remaining four, according to the report, $270 in fees were not collected and auditors found no evidence to support collection efforts.

Auditors say “there were no monitoring procedures in place to ensure the Clerk’s Office accurately assessed and properly identified, tracked, and compelled the collection of fees not paid at the time of the final inventory filing.”

According to the audit, Daniel said her “employees made unintentional mistakes” in calculating and not collecting the required amounts.

Auditors recommended Daniel follow state law and other guidelines, ensure employees receive proper training and implement procedures to keep similar mistakes from happening in the future.

In her response dated June 20, regarding unclaimed funds, Daniel said the finding was valid and that “corrective actions have been taken to ensure compliance with … policies and procedures” and that “aging reports will be reviewed periodically to ensure the timely transfer” of funds.

“It is also important to note that there was no fraud discovered during this audit,” Daniel added.

As to the second charge, Daniel concurred with the audit finding and recommendation, saying again that corrective measures have been taken.

“For the two estate cases were overpayments were made, refunds have been sent to heirs,” she said. “For the one case where the estate was underpaid, a notice has been sent for collection.”

Daniel added that notices have also been sent to the remainder of the estates not yet paid.

“Effective immediately, the estate clerks will not close estate files until all fees are collected,” she said. “This will allow the estate tracking system to monitor all pending files.”

The audit also found that the clerk’s office:

• collected $2,173,635 in cash from fines, fees, court costs, bonds, judgments and other matters;

• collected $60,801 in estate fees; and

• set aside $413,880 in bond forfeitures.

Reach William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 or [email protected]

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By William R. Toler

Editor