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Economy & Business

County Controller Wagner Audits 'Off-Book' Accounts

In the wake of Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper’s indictment on counts of conspiracy and theft of public funds, Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner wants to increase transparency in county funds.

She and County Manager William McKain are auditing “off-book” accounts with the goal of bringing them under the county’s centralized accounting and banking system.

She called the accounts “historic relics” from the county’s former row office structure.

“A long time ago it made sense for different departments to have their own accounts so that they could expedite their own transactions if they need a quick turnaround, if they needed to be able to process something quickly,” Wagner said. “But now we have a much more sophisticated, modern financial system.”

Wagner said she wants to eliminate the fragmentation that comes with the more than 40 accounts, which have a combined balance of more than $21 million.

She said having so many accounts creates the opportunity for waste, fraud and abuse.

According to Wagner, the Controller’s Office routinely conducts forensic reviews of different accounts and examines their internal controls.

“This is something that’s very standard for our office but just important that we have the cooperation of those other departments and the willingness to train the respective county employees in the use of a different system, that main system, and a different way of doing things,” Wagner said.

She said the county has invested a lot of money in tools and software but hasn’t always embraced the cultural change that comes with these new tools.

“I recognize that with that cultural shift within organizations and within government is much more difficult, but this is an area particularly what you look at what had happened with the city of Pittsburgh, with their police department, I think that everyone understands why it is so important now,” Wagner said.

Former Police Chief Nate Harper was indicted on five counts that range from conspiracy and theft of public funds to willful failure to file income tax returns.

One count of his indictment was conspiracy to engage in the theft of public money using the diversion of funds to the Pittsburgh Federal Credit Union.