Republican Ohio Auditor Keith Faber wants to improve the state’s capacity to identify and pursue wrongdoers, prosecute them, and recover taxpayer money by requiring public employees to receive more training on spotting government fraud and corruption and requiring them to promptly report suspected crimes.
Faber claimed on Thursday that his office has upped the threshold for capturing public servants who are attempting to steal from the public coffers at all levels of government.
The state could do more, however, according to Faber.
His requests for further education and reporting come as Faber marked his office’s 100th conviction for fraud and corruption since he started his first term as auditor in 2019, with most of those convictions occurring at the local government level. These cases led to over $5 million in reparations and over $18.3 million in recovery findings.
During Faber’s time as auditor, his office discovered that a mayor from Bridgeport put traffic penalties into his personal account. An employee of Clark County made up a bogus vendor and received $1.8 million in pay over 16 years. And a former Nelsonville deputy auditor made up phony employees to receive higher pay.
Faber’s office frequently begins uncovering fraud and abuse in municipal, state, or charitable organizations with reports from other authorities or the general public via email, phone calls, or their app.
“Almost everybody gets caught. We want to catch people who are lying, stealing and cheating earlier. We want to make it more transparent. And we want to make it more difficult that people take a crack at taxpayer money,” Faber said.
Faber claimed that he requested extra funding for cyber fraud training and investigations in the state budget, but he would also like to hire an additional investigator, some phone screeners, and tech specialists.
He also wants funding to advertise avenues for the general public to submit concerns about questionable behavior.
Additionally, Faber is advocating for legislation that will provide public servants additional training in recognizing fraud. State Senator Tim Schaffer (R-Lancaster), who will sponsor the bill, aims to expand the auditor’s Special Investigations Unit and mandate prompt reporting when fraud is evident.
The bill, which Schaffer aims to introduce in a few weeks, would also contain extra funding from the state to hire more personnel for the section that looks into these crimes and more training requirements for public employees on identifying potential fraud.
“This legislation that we are drafting right now is going to be a major step forward in catching criminals,” Schaffer said.
Schaffer is also willing to extend the same rapid reporting requirements to state legislators even though they are now within the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee‘s jurisdiction rather than the auditor’s.
“Our belief is that the training should apply to all government officials,” Faber said.
Faber noted that while there are typically warning signs of wrongdoing, these signs frequently appear gradually. However, they could cost a lot of money.
“In most cases of public officials who lie, cheat and steal from public coffers, there are ample warning signs that should have been reported …We want people to be able to spot red flags of potential corruption and fraud and know how to report their suspicions,” Faber said.
According to Faber, officials who fail to disclose crimes because they fear a scandal or an election should face consequences.
“We do think there needs to be penalties for someone who knowingly violates their duty. Dereliction of duty is a charge in Ohio, but the law could be more explicit,” Faber said.
Additionally, Faber wants local governments to receive additional training on the importance of calling his office right away if they suspect cybercrime. Faber gave a township in Northeast Ohio as the “ideal example.” Within an hour of learning about a $1 million attack, local authorities notified his office, and his team “clawed back” a sizable sum of money.
“If he had waited just a week or two to contact us. Most of that money would have been lost,” Faber said.
Schaffer’s bill is in the drafting stages, and lawmakers may incorporate it into the two-year state operating budget where Governor Mike DeWine’s plan includes Faber’s request for one additional Special Investigations Unit officer.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Keith Faber” by Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber.