CEDAR FALLS – A state audit has found improper payments and other concerns with the University of Northern Iowa’s Study Abroad Center.
According to a report released Thursday by the state auditor, the audit identified $6,691 in improper and unsupported disbursements and undeposited collections between July 2011 and June 2014 when the program was run by Yana Cornish.
The payments totaled $5,768 and included hospitality and catering costs which did not comply with UNI policies and the cost for a travel visa for Cornish’s daughter, according to audit. The $922 in undeposited collections related to reimbursements Cornish received for costs paid for with her university procurement card.
UNI identified the undeposited reimbursements and withheld the amount from Cornish’s final salary payment, according to the audit.
Cornish left UNI in 2014 when she was hired by the University of Georgia’s Office of International Education.
State Auditor Mary Mosiman said it wasn’t possible to determine if additional improper disbursements were made or if other collections not deposited because records were not readily available for all time periods.
Copies of the report have been filed with the Board of Regents’ Office of Internal Audit, the University’s Department of Public Safety, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Black Hawk County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office.
Cornish started at UNI in 1999 and began summer camps in China as part of her assignment with the Study Abroad Center. She left UNI in 2014 when she was hired by the University of Georgia’s Office of International Education.
UNI staff went to the state auditor in May 2014 after becoming concerned Cornish was charging air travel on her UNI procurement card and then obtaining reimbursement for the same costs through another organization. They were also concerned about guest meal tickets and game tickets that were supposed to be for international students but were used for personal purposes, according to the audit.
The audit found a number of meals for the center’s staff were charged to the university but didn’t comply with UNI policies because they exceeded the reimbursement maximum or weren’t in line with UNI policy. Auditors also found a dinner sponsored by the center didn’t use an approved vendor.
“The invoice from the caterer did not specify the location of the event and did not specify the quantity of items provided, with the exception of 12 shrimp spring rolls and 15 vegetable spring rolls. The invoice totaled $280,” the audit states.
The audit also mentions a November 2012 lunch where Cornish and two center staff members ate at Sakura Japanese Steak House & Sushi Bar for $136, and notes it was more than UNI’s $9 per diem lunch rate. An October 2013 dinner for two at Bourbon Street & Voodoo Lounge in Cedar Falls had a cost of $95, which was beyond what should have been at $32 limit for the two, according to the audit. Also mentioned was a November 2013 dinner for three at Tony’s LaPizzeria in Cedar Falls at a total cost of $105.
The audit found the center received a $245 invoice for a Russian visa for Cornish’s daughter in 2012 during a time when the center wasn’t sponsoring trips to Russia, and auditor tagged the cost as an improper disbursement.
Cornish also received $922 in checks from the Institute of International Education for airfare to attend to the group’s events in Houston. She allegedly kept the checks and charged the airfare to her UNI procurement card, according to the audit. When Cornish left UNI in 2014, the university withheld from her final salary $922 for the air travel, the audit states.