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May 16, 2012 | 08:03 AMBLOOMFIELD — A 52-year-old Pell Lake woman may have "borrowed" money from the Pell Lake Sanitary District.
JoAnn Kanas, W1344 Glenwood Road, the district's former utility clerk, faces felony charges of theft from a business setting totaling more than $10,000 and misconduct in public office.
If convicted, she faces up to 13-1/2 years imprisonment and $35,000 in fines. She made her initial court appearance May 15 when Judge John Race set a $20,000 signature bond for her. During the hearing, Kanas was represented by public defender Travis Schwantes.
Kanas was hired by the district in 1999. She was terminated for misconduct Dec. 18, 2011, by Bill Markut, who at that time was the president of the now defunct Pell Lake Sanitary District Commission.
In 2011, Certified Public Accountant Pat Romenesko performed an audit of the district which revealed more than $20,000 was unaccounted for, according to the criminal complaint.
"There was apparently a reconciliation problem between our accounting and billing systems," Markut stated. "Due to the significance of the number, we took immediate action into evaluating the possible causes of the discrepancy."
He stated the district then hired a part-time, independent bookkeeper to confirm the audit, and "we established that there was indeed a true problem as there was a discrepancy between what we collected as revenue from billing and what was actually deposited into our bank accounts."
On Dec. 15, Walworth County Sheriff's Deputy Jeff Recknagel questioned Kanas about the missing funds for about an hour. During the questioning, Recknagel told Kanas that she borrowed the cash and she responded, "You're right" and began to cry, according to the criminal complaint.
Kanas told Recknagel that she had been "borrowing money." She also said she paid all of it back.
After Markut discharged Kanas, she attempted to obtain unemployment benefits. He stated initially, she was denied these benefits and she filed an appeal with the Department of Workforce Development.
However, on May 3, the department's Appeal Tribunal decided Kanas was ineligible for benefits.
Kanas claimed she paid money back
The tribunal's decision statement includes a section titled "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law," which details the situation. According to this document, the deficit discovered in January 2011 was "approximately $19,000 between bills that were shown to have been paid and actual deposits" into district bank accounts. Kanas was asked to work with district accountants "in order to resolve the discrepancy."
"When the matter was not satisfactorily explained by April of 2011, a bookkeeper was hired," the document stated. "(Kanas) was directed to aid the bookkeeper and in a short amount of time the (district) was informed by the bookkeeper that much more than $19,000 was missing."
The bookkeeper discovered customer payments were being deposited "months after receipt of the payments," the document stated. Kanas was one of four employees who had regular access to the payments and the district's bank accounts.
The Sheriff's Department began its investigation December 2011, according to the tribunal document. Kanas was interviewed Dec. 15, 2011.
"At first, (she) admitted knowing that money was missing but denied having any knowledge as to why," the tribunal document stated. "She explained that there was always some annual variance between money collected and when it showed up as deposited. (Kanas) was informed that only cash payments were missing and the employee conceded that it was her job to make sure that the cash was properly deposited in the employer's account."
According to the tribunal, Kanas later admitted to "having borrowed money from the employer."
"She explained that she kept track of the money she was taking and agreed that she did not have permission to take the money from the employer," the tribunal stated.
Kanas reportedly admitted to taking about $6,000 in 2010, and "between $1,200 and $1,500" in 2011, according to the document.
"(Kanas) explained that she took at a minimum $100 at a time, frequently taking hundreds at a time," the tribunal stated. "She contended that she kept careful notes on how much money she took and tried to pay it back. She maintained that she had paid back all the money she had taken."
However, the tribunal stated Kanas' personal banking records, which were obtained by law enforcement, "showed unexplained deposits which did not correlate" with paychecks received by her or her husband.
No doubt, the case has affected district officials.
But there no longer is a Pell Lake Sanitary District Commission. When the village of Bloomfield became incorporated, it assumed ownership and operation of the district in accordance with state law. As such, the commission was dissolved.
Village President Ken Monroe called the case "serious" during a May 10 telephone interview.
In an e-mail May 10 to Markut, he was asked how he felt when he first discovered this situation.
"I'll let you know how I feel after the case is resolved in the courts," Markut stated in his reply.