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State auditor finds money missing at Walla Walla Community College

WWCC Dietrich Dome

A recent report by the Office of the Washington State Auditor found misuse and loss of almost $7,000 from Walla Walla Community College.

The report, published in late December, also found weaknesses in WWCC’s internal financial controls.

As required by law, WWCC officials notified the auditor’s office in July of potential misuse of funds by longtime college rodeo coach Buster Barton.

Barton had overseen the school’s rodeo team — part of the school’s athletic programs — since 2004, leading men’s and women’s teams to regional and national competitions. He was recruited to the school as a student in 1997, according to past Union-Bulletin stories.

College officials said Wednesday that Barton is no longer employed there. As head rodeo coach, his most recent annual salary was $55,091 for coaching and other assigned duties, said Sherry Hartford, vice president of human resources.

In a letter to WWCC’s administration, state Auditor Pat McCarthy said that between July 2018 and last April, Barton misappropriated funds that should have been given to students to buy meals on team road trips under the school’s policy.

The state auditor’s office does not determine if a crime has been committed, thus uses the terms “misplaced” and “misappropriated” in its reports, spokeswoman Kathleen Cooper said Wednesday.

The WWCC case has been referred to Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle’s office, Cooper said.

Nagle, however, said the auditor’s report lacked the investigative information needed to determine if prosecution is appropriate and that his office can’t pursue a case without it.

College officials hired an independent investigator, who determined there were possible losses by Barton totaling $6,969.

Barton told the investigator he misplaced horse-stall rental revenues generated by sporting events at the college and made unauthorized and personal purchases using a WWCC-issued bank card, McCarthy’s report said.

State auditing staff reviewed that investigation and concluded a total $4,995 of misappropriation occurred, and $1,982 of questionable spending by Barton took place during the same period.

The missing meal money was given to the coach in advance of rodeo events to cover student meals.

After such trips during the 2018-2019 school year, however, Barton submitted travel expenses indicating the advance funds had been given to the students when they had not, the report said.

One credit card charge for $8 by Barton paid for unallowable expenses and was also deemed misappropriation by state auditors.

The report said questionable spending by Barton added up to $1,982, of which $1,420 was the missing rodeo stall-rental fees and $562 came from unauthorized credit card purchases.

Last May, Barton told the investigator he had experienced personal issues during that time and might have used the bank card inadvertently for personal purchases, the auditors said.

Barton agreed he had not given students the designated meal funds, instead paying for the food himself. Cooper could not say where any difference in those two amounts ended up.

On Aug. 26, Barton agreed to repay the college $6,969, according to McCarthy’s report.

That restitution has begun, WWCC officials said Wednesday.

Auditors also said internal financial controls at the college were inadequate to safeguard public resources.

The investigation found a lack of oversight and monitoring of bank card use, inadequate processes for handling student meal funds and no oversight of cash transactions for horse-stall rentals at the school.

McCarthy’s office recommended school officials bolster control over those areas to safeguard public dollars and ensure compliance with WWCC policies.

As well, school officials should seek recovery of investigation costs of $3,650 from Barton and/or WWCC’s insurance provider, as appropriate.

In their response to the findings, college officials laid out new rules for credit card purchases and keeping track of receipts.

As well, students getting a meal allowance now provide their student identification number and sign for cash received. Coaches are to charge group meals on the college bank card.

The rodeo team is being led by interim head coach Brent Palmer.

McCarthy’s office will examine the case again as part of a full audit that begins later this year and will cover years 2016 to 2019, Cooper said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at

sheilahagar@wwub.com

or 509-526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.