WATERLOO — An administrative aide has been accused of taking or misspending more than $440,000 from the Black Hawk and Bremer soil and water conservation districts.

Leslie Carey served as a conservation assistant for both agencies when the money was misappropriated, according to a special investigative report issued Friday by State Auditor Mary Mosiman.

The audit found Carey, also known as Leslie Grundy, had access to district bank accounts between 2010 and 2017 when around $181,913 in cash was improperly withdrawn from Black Hawk accounts.

The report also noted $63,345 in purchases made with a district debit card controlled by Carey, including money spent on a Florida cruise, other out-of-state travel, a new air conditioner and water heater at her home, electronics, clothing, grocery bills and other personal expenses.

Another $42,150 in expenses, including multiple restaurant and department store purchases, were incurred on an unauthorized district credit card Carey opened.

Auditors said $134,000 from Bremer accounts were improperly used to support Black Hawk district operations.

A Black Hawk SWCD commissioner learned of the unauthorized credit card in November 2017 when it was overdrawn. That led the Iowa Department of Agriculture to call for the special audit.

Carey, a 10-year employee of the districts, was placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 1 and resigned Dec. 12.

Auditors said they contacted Carey about their findings but were referred to her legal counsel, who did not respond.

No criminal charges had been filed Friday, but the audit report has been turned over to the Waterloo Police Department, Black Hawk and Bremer County attorneys, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The 304-page state audit report notes investigators found cash disbursements from Black Hawk SWCD accounts, often from ATM machines, corresponded with deposits in Carey’s personal accounts on many occasions.

Carey personally signed for other withdrawals.

The Black Hawk SWCD commission told auditors reports supplied to them by Carey did not include the debit and credit card accounts or the cash withdrawals.

While the state’s 100 SWCDs are not required by law to conduct annual audits, the report criticized the Black Hawk commission for failing to adopt a 2013 directive from the ag department to ensure conservation assistants were not authorized to make disbursements from their bank accounts.

But Sherman Lundy, a Black Hawk SWCD Commission member, said the commission believed it had complied with the directive when commissioners visited the credit union and formally requested to remove Carey’s name from all accounts.

“We were told at that time, after we signed the necessary papers at the financial institution, this had been done,” Lundy said. “Apparently for whatever reason, the individual at the financial institution did not complete that effort. What we found out later when all of this broke, was the name of the secretary had only been removed from one of the accounts.”

Lundy said the conservation assistants around the state were also told to remove their names from all accounts. He is not sure whether state officials followed up to see if that had been done.

“In effect, while the commissioners could remove the secretary’s name, provided the financial institution completed that request, we had no capacity to determine if the (Division of Soil Conservation) had in effect enforced that notice on the secretary,” he said.

Lundy said the situation has not stopped the commission from completing its mission.

“We are continuing to serve rural and urban Black Hawk County with great soil and water conservation programs,” he said. “Further, stringent and greater controls have been implemented to eliminate any future occurrence of the past problem.”

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