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Kansas to investigate missing money/documents at state park

April 1, 2019

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas parks officials planning to investigate financial irregularities at Clinton State Park near Lawrence say some documents detailing cash handling at the park are missing.

Someone took records that document whether money left in the self-pay station was transferred to a safe at the park, said Brad Loveless, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

The public puts thousands of dollars in cash into the self-pay box every year. An investigation by The Lawrence Journal-World found that park officials couldn’t prove the money was making it to the state.

State Parks Director Linda Lanterman says she is working to hire someone from outside the agency to conduct an investigation and audit.

“We are going in there,” she said. “We can go in there and turn it upside down.”

Lanterman said she’s confident the missing records weren’t lost or misplaced and someone had to take them out of the office.

The cash-handling problems aren’t new. Among documents given to the newspaper in July 2017 was a letter from a park employee alleging that in the summer of 2016 there was “all out war on the park’s cash-based system.” A fax transmission receipt shows the letter was faxed to a regional supervisor in the park system.

Park leaders acknowledged they heard concerns about irregularities in the cash-handling system in the past. In response, several internal procedures were changed at the park, said Jeff Bender, the regional supervisor who oversees Clinton State Park.

The documents provided to the Journal-World question the whereabouts of at least 18 payments in a single month of 2016. The newspaper has more than 100 other placards that could be checked against manifests if those documents weren’t missing. That information, along with the 2017 letter, prompted the department to investigate.

“We are working to make the system better,” said Loveless, who has been in charge of the department only since January.

Park employees empty the box and fill out a manifest that records, by permit number, each envelope that was removed and the amount of money in each envelope. Park officials said one employee generally collects the money.

It is difficult to know how much money might be missing. In 2016, for instance, the amount a camper would have paid at Clinton State Park for a single night ranged from $8 to $26. That means the 18 missing permits in July 2016 could have had a value ranging from $144 to $468 for the month.

State park officials said Clinton collected about $750,000 a year in fees from park users. They said the state’s accounting system doesn’t detail how much of that money was cash, rather than checks or credit cards.

Lanterman said she is considering installing a camera system at the self-pay station at Clinton. And two people will now collect money from the self-pay box, rather than just one.

Loveless said the department has a strong motive to fix the problem because the park system is largely funded through user fees, and the agency already has a tight budget.

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com

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