City accidentally writes $375K check, then someone cashed it - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

City accidentally writes $375K check, then someone cashed it

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(FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr) (FOX19 NOW/Jody Barr)
LAWRENCEBURG, IN (FOX19) -

Who cashed a $375, 547.97 check in December 2012? That’s what Dearborn County prosecutor’s investigators are working to figure out. Investigators sought and served a subpoena on the Lawrenceburg Clerk-Treasurer’s Office on March 7, the first steps in answering that question.

That move also launched a criminal investigation into the city Clerk-Treasurer’s Office and a Houston, Texas company, accused of cashing the check and collecting those tax dollars.

The city tells FOX19 NOW, those tax dollars didn’t belong to the company in the first place.

THE SUBPOENA

On March 7, Dearborn County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard signed a request for a subpoena, asking a judge to allow his office to seize all records involving check number 95620. The subpoena would allow investigators to obtain a copy of that check and “copies of any and all records pertaining to…” the subpoena request stated.

The check was written to Pro Maxima Manufacturing, LTD, court records show. It was written sometime in December 2012, but the court record does not show an exact date

The record also doesn’t show who signed the check.

The subpoena was granted that day and ordered the Lawrenceburg Clerk-Treasurer’s Office to produce copies of the check and any other correspondence associated with Pro Maxima Manufacturing, LTD, the court record shows. The records were to be sent to Detective Thomas McKay of the Special Crimes Unit of the county prosecutor’s office.

PRO MAXIMA MANUFACTURING, LTD

Lawrenceburg Mayor Kelly Mollaun confirmed for FOX19 NOW the company accused of cashing the check is Pro Maxima Manufacturing, LTD, a Houston, TX-based exercise equipment manufacturer. Pro Maxima Manufacturing, LTD’s web site lists its parent company as “Pro Maxima.”
 
In a February 2016 YouTube video, Pro Maxima claims to be the largest fitness equipment supplier in North America. Based out of Houston, the company’s web site shows it’s been in business for 45 years and its founder and president is Bob Leppke.

The company claims to have contracts with the military and other government agencies across the nation. Some of those contracts, the company claims, is to provide exercise equipment to high school and college athletic facilities.

We made multiple attempts to reach Leppke several hours before broadcasting and publishing this report Friday. Messages left at Leppke’s Houston headquarters were not returned.

Pro Maxima did provide workout equipment to the Lawrenceburg Police Department before December 2012, the city confirmed. That’s the reason the company was entered into the city’s vendor database, Mayor Mollaun told FOX19 NOW.

The mistake, the city believes, happened when a 2012 grant check was issued to Proximo, a distiller in Greendale. The city thinks whoever issued the check mistakenly entered “Pro Maxima” into the city’s electronic database when “Proximo” was the intended recipient.

“WE’RE GOING TO GET OUR MONEY BACK”

“We’re going to pursue it until we get our money back or something of equal value,” Lawrenceburg Mayor Kelly Mollaun told FOX19 NOW. Mollaun indicated the city’s planning to prosecute as soon as the county prosecutor’s office finishes its investigation.

Calls to prosecutor Aaron Negangard’s office for comment on this case and an update on the investigation have not been returned.

Mollaun took over as mayor in January. Former Mayor Dennis Carr held the office when the check was written and when it was discovered sometime last year.

“We all have written double checks to whatever the case may be,” Mollaun said of the mistake by the city,” But cashing a check of that magnitude, I believe you would know if you were owed that or not.”

“Quite honestly, cashing that check was an act that they personally did,” Mollaun told FOX19 NOW.

After the city discovered the check sometime in 2015, the city confirmed. A search of council minutes does not show the check was ever discussed openly at council. Former members, who made decisions on the city’s loan and grant expenditures said they never had a clue about the check.

“Obviously, it was hid from council because, come to find out, it happened in 2012 and I never knew anything about it,” former Lawrenceburg City Councilman Mike Lawrence told FOX19 NOW.
 
Lawrence said he never knew about the check until word of the subpoena got out days ago. The former councilman also recently found something else out: the city had a deal worked out with Pro Maxima to repay the money sometime in 2015.

“I don’t see how somebody could have made a deal for them to make payments back without the authority of council,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said the investigation shouldn’t focus solely on who cashed the check, but who issued the check and how it was kept from the public for so long, “If we’re going to talk transparency, transparency is bringing it out in the public meetings and let the taxpayers know,” Lawrence said.

“Somebody that was in the city’s office that knew about it and made a deal with them to make payments back and kept it hid from the citizens of Lawrenceburg and common council, should be prosecuted,” Lawrence told FOX19 NOW.

In 2012, Jackie Stutz was the city’s elected Clerk-Treasurer at the time the check was written. We made several attempts to reach Stutz for comment on this investigation, but calls and a visit to her home were unsuccessful.

The entire situation, Lawrence believes, would have been prevented had the check never been cashed, “I don’t understand why they cashed the check because they wouldn’t have an invoice for it. So, I would have thought; honest company would have contacted the city of Lawrenceburg and asked them what the check was for,” Lawrence said.

“I’m highly upset. I just can’t believe I spent four years in there, supposed to be doing the work of the citizens of Lawrenceburg and then had people hiding stuff like that from me and not knowing about $375,000 of money that was sent to the wrong company,” Lawrence said.

The city had a year to come clean with the public over the mistake, the former councilman argued. Lawrence blames the former and current city administrations for keeping this $375,000 mistake behind city hall’s doors, “The citizens and myself never knew until a news article was done and that is not transparency by either party,” Lawrence said.

The records investigators sought in the March 7 subpoena were handed over to the Dearborn County Prosecutor’s Office on March 17, the court filing shows. We do not know the status of the investigation as of this report because the prosecutor has not returned calls for comment.

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