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Former Eau Claire County employee charged with fraudulent writings, use of a credit card

Published: Aug. 11, 2020 at 11:32 AM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A former Eau Claire County employee appeared in court today.

She's charged with fraud, after being accused of using county credit cards to buy gift cards for personal use.

Zer Smith was hired by the county in 2011 and worked in the Department of Human Services.

“Miss Smith was a regular full time employee who was hired within the department and provided a number of different services within her role in the department,” says Eau Claire County Administrator Kathryn Schauf.

Smith was involved in Eau Claire County’s SPARK program, which provides services to at-risk youth.

She was employed from February 2018 until her termination last October.

In 2018, Smith allegedly began purchasing gift cards for the SPARK program.

According to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, more than 40 $500 visa gift cards were purchased by Smith, but only 17 of them were approved.

“We believe, and the District Attorney is alleging, that approximately $2,000 in gift cards was actually stolen,” Schauf says.

“Our financial crimes detective took a look at that, she found that there were a number of gift cards purchased by that individual and those gift cards did not end up going where they were supposed to go,” says Josh Miller with the Eau Claire Police Department. “A number of them were in fact used for her own personal use.”

Smith reportedly used the gift cards to make purchases at Walmart, Sam’s Club, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and NFLshop.com.

Police say there are still 17 gift cards unaccounted for.

The case comes in the shade of other fraud cases impacting Eau Claire County, most notably, the embezzlement scandal of former Eau Claire County Treasurer Larry Lokken and his Deputy Kay Onarheim.

Schauf says she still has confidence in the controls in place at the county level.

“It is a continual challenge, any time an organization goes through changes in personnel or programming there needs to be specific attention paid to the internal controls,” she says. “That is a continuing work that needs to be done.”

Smith is free on a $4,000 signature bond.

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A former Eau Claire County employee has been charged with fraudulent writings and use of a credit card.

Court documents show Zer Smith, 39, has been charged with four counts of fraudulent writings and five counts of fraudulent use of a credit credit (< $2,500).

The criminal complaint states that on Jan. 22 detectives reported to the Eau Claire County Department of Human Services. The detective was informed of an employee theft regarding a person using a card to make personal purchases.

Smith had been terminated on Oct. 14, 2019.

A full review of purchases by the employee related to the county’s SPARK program was conducted. A total of 43 gift cards were purchased for the program but only 17 of them were approved or received by the program. 26 of the gift cards were reported to have not been approved or received. The total amount Smith spent on the gift cards totaled to $21,777.74, which included gift card amount and activation costs.

Detectives say that due to the discrepancies in the information submitted as well as record keeping issues between DHS and the SPARK program, it was deemed difficult to tell exactly how many gift cards were purchased by Smith and received by SPARK.

On May 28, 2020 Smith admitted to detectives that she had not received any training or guidance on how to use the county credit card and that she had not provided all of the gift cards to the program.

Eau Claire County Administrator Kathryn Schauf gave the following statement:

“While we are disappointed to discover the alleged theft of gift cards intended for a Department of Human Services (DHS) program, the situation was discovered and handled. That is certainly a reflection of the continued and ever evolving control systems in place at Eau Claire County. We simply cannot, and will not, tolerate any misuse of taxpayer funds. We thank the City of Eau Claire Police Department for its quick response and handling of the situation.”

Copyright 2020 WEAU. All rights reserved.

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