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8/18/2013 6:00:00 AM
Report says no one profited from Mohave County life insurance error
Ron Walker
Ron Walker

Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa
Miner Staff Reporter

KINGMAN - Sloppy paperwork by a former county benefits manager over the last eight years set the county's rumor mill churning with allegations of missing money and misuse of the county funds, according to an investigative report released by Mohave County on Friday.

The report details the county's investigation into a series of paperwork errors that left 18 employees without the life insurance coverage they had paid for.

According to the investigators' report, "No evidence was found of funds being stolen from any county accounts that were used to pay for life insurance or medical policies. Neither (the Human Resources) nor (the Risk Management departments) had checkbooks to issue checks and all payments must go through (the Finance Department) via claims and/or invoices.

No crime was determined to have occurred in this area.

"What investigators did find is that the former employee benefits/occupational health manager of the HR Department, who was placed in charge of benefits, failed to properly oversee and reconcile the accounts."

The former employee benefits/occupational health manager for the department was Christine Renner, who abruptly resigned in August 2012. Her husband, Richard Weldon, was the county's risk manager. He resigned in July 2012 after being escorted from the building in March 2012.

County officials have declined to talk about why Renner and Weldon resigned, stating that the issue is a personnel matter. Personnel records are exempt from Arizona's open records laws. Weldon and Renner were not available for comment.

According to the investigators' report, Weldon is the only current or former county employee who has failed to respond to a request for an interview.

The report also states that Renner failed to notify employees of errors on their benefit paperwork and have those errors corrected before sending the paperwork on to the County Finance Department and the insurance companies.

According to investigators, this led to money being deducted from employees' paychecks for policies that did not exist and the insurance company using the money to cover increases in life insurance premiums for other employees. The error should have been caught when the insurance companies sent an invoice back to the Human Resources Department and the employee benefits/occupational health manager, but it appears that the department didn't reconcile the invoices with the insurance provider before forwarding the invoice on to the Finance Department for payment.

According to the report, when employees attempted to claim the benefits they thought they had paid for, the insurance company told them that they were not covered.

When employees contacted the county benefits office to correct the error, "The employee benefits/occupational health manger, gave various reasons to various people on why this reconciliation was not being done properly and uniformly and why people were not enrolled."

One explanation given was that insurance provider gave the county the wrong phone number.

"This error by both the insurance provider and the county helped to fuel the rumors of stolen or mismanaged funds," the report states.

The rumor flames were further fanned when, according to the report, the benefits manager told several employees that they were not allowed to contact the insurance company. Several insurance company representatives who were interviewed by the investigators confirmed that they only recall talking to either the benefits manager or risk manager.

According to the report, the county's Information Technology Department "on more than one occasion" offered to help train the benefits staff on how to use a computer program to reconcile the insurance accounts, "but the employee benefits/occupational health manager resisted using the system."

"Current and former employees tried to report the issues to upper management but they advised (investigators) they could do little in this area due to the level of control maintained by the employee benefits/occupational health manager on the benefits side of the Human Resources Department and support from the (former) county manager toward the employee benefits/occupational manager," the report states.

The county manger at the time was Ron Walker. Walker had a reputation among some county employees as being very demanding of his employees and protective of department managers.

The paperwork snafu also led to rumors among county employees that Renner or her husband was diverting checks from certain vendors to their own accounts or "dummy" accounts.

"No evidence of this type of activity was detected," according to the report. "The perception that this could occur appeared to have been built on a combination of factors, one of which was the total lack of trust that a majority of the employees appeared to have toward the employee benefits/occupational health manager. Perceptions of what was or was not occurring varied greatly depending on who was interviewed and also upon what time period was being discussed."

The investigators also looked into rumors that cash payments for flu shots and donations for fundraisers were misappropriated by department staff.

"Insufficient evidence was obtained to show that money collected was diverted in such a manner to warrant a charge of theft and where theft was suspected, a successful prosecution was doubtful," the report states. "Investigators did find a lack of proper accounting practices and oversight by HR managers during the time period, as well as possible violations of county policy."

"As the employee benefits/occupational health manager is no longer employed by Mohave County there is no further investigation requested for violations of policy," according to the report.

The investigators also looked at the possible misuse of county funds by Renner and Weldon and found no criminal activity. It did find that a previous investigation of Renner and Weldon uncovered violations of the county's travel and credit card use policies.

According to the report, county officials allowed Renner and Weldon to resign rather than fire them.

County Finance Director John Timko and Human Resources Director Ray Osuna brought the issue with the county's Lincoln Financial Life insurance policy to the Board's attention in March.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Article comment by: Say What?

I find it hard to believe that if Ron Walker was involved, that there wasn't something shady going on. The smell usually surrounds the rotten meat!

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Article comment by: Steve Moss

Mr. Williams-

The employees should already been reimbursed.

Steve Moss

Posted: Monday, August 19, 2013
Article comment by: Not as serious as it seems

This seems a lot worse than it really was. There is no excuse for lazy book-keeping and no-reconciliations but it is the fault of a bad employee. The insurance company and county offered many options to the 18 individuals. They were given the choice to have their coverage retrospectively activated or have their premiums refunded.

No one tried to file a large claim and was denied.

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013
Article comment by: Frederick Williams

Have to agree with V Stokes. K.D.M. if you are going to show Walker's face at least put bars over it.
Also would like to know if the employees are going to be reimbursed by the County or the Insurance company?

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013
Article comment by: anonymous anonymous

No one profited, but what would the alleged insured say if their heirs who thought they were covered had their loved one die and the insurance companies had to not pay out leaving them victims of someone's incompetence? This mistake might have caused some family a life time of financial hardship!

Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013
Article comment by: V Stokes

KDM, how could you??!! We all thought we'd never have to see that picture again.

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