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Audit details how former Center, Missouri, clerk misappropriated taxpayer money

Tracey Ray

CENTER, Mo. (WGEM) – Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has released an audit of the City of Center that details how former clerk, Tracey Ray, misappropriated more than $300,000 in taxpayer funds.

The audit, which focused on the period between January 2015 and July 2019, was performed by the Auditor's Public Corruption and Fraud Division after information was received through the state’s whistleblower hotline. 

"This audit details a serious breach of public trust and exposes years of dishonesty at the expense of taxpayers. The abuses by the former clerk, which include using taxpayers' dollars to pay for concert tickets and vacations in Branson, Colorado and Las Vegas, are just egregious," Auditor Galloway said. "The city must work to rebuild citizens' trust by addressing the lack of oversight that allowed this activity to occur and carry on for years."

According to the report, last summer, a whistle blower contacted the State Auditor's Office regarding lack of financial reporting in the city. The office began investigating and was then contacted by the mayor who requested information to initiate an audit. Additional investigation revealed concerns specific to Ray.

On July 2, 2019, after being questioned by city officials, Ray was involved in an incident in which she exchanged gunfire with Ralls County Sheriff's deputies. As a result, the Missouri Attorney General's Office filed felony charges for assault and armed criminal action.

The Board of Aldermen voted to terminate Ray's employment on July 3, the same day the board formally requested an audit.

The audit found more than $200,000 in city funds were used to pay Ray's personal credit card bills that included charges to Amazon, Walmart, hotels, restaurants and a hair salon. City funds were also used to pay more than $35,000 of personal expenses, including tax bills, mortgage payments and life insurance policy premiums.

The audit shows that after the board discontinued health insurance coverage for city employees in 2014, Ray used $62,000 in city funds to pay for a health insurance policy for herself and her family.

Additionally, the audit found missing cash totaling at least $7,000 that was collected, but never deposited. The audit also questioned a number of payments, transactions and payroll disbursements that lacked proper documentation.

The audit found there was insufficient oversight of Ray, and she provided inaccurate financial information and falsified records to the board to cover up her actions.

The audit shows that lack of documentation related to compensation of city officials and employees also meant that it was difficult to determine the accuracy and appropriateness of some payroll payments. Additionally, the city has not obtained statutorily required financial audits or submitted required financial reports.

"My Public Corruption and Fraud Division has been working closely with local, state and federal law enforcement throughout the audit and will continue to provide additional assistance now that the audit is complete," Auditor Galloway said. 

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