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George Maragos: Nassau probation account poorly managed

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos speaks to the

Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos speaks to the Nassau County Legislature prior to passing the county budget on Oct. 31, 2016, in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A bank account run by Nassau’s Probation Department to collect restitution money from offenders and distribute funds to crime victims has been poorly managed and is vulnerable to theft and abuse, an audit by County Comptroller George Maragos says.

The report, which examined the department’s Restitution Bank Account for the period Jan. 1, 2013, through Dec. 31, 2015, said officials failed to distribute $266,000 in uncashed checks meant for crime victims and could not resolve more than $100,000 in accounting errors.

Maragos, a Republican turned Democrat who is running for county executive this year, said the department is “failing” to protect crime victims.

“Their mission is to collect and distribute these funds,” Maragos said. “And they are not accomplishing it.”

Probationers pay administrative fees and court-ordered surcharges that are deposited into the bank account and distributed to victims.

But Maragos says the account, which collects an average of $2.6 million annually from probationers, has weak internal controls that could lead to theft — although he said he discovered no instances of money being inappropriately spent.

Auditors found nearly $103,000 in unresolved errors on the account’s books, including DWI fees that were labeled incorrectly as cash receipts. The error inflated the balance in the account by $81,762, the audit said.

In another instance, a probationer paid $15,576 for his restitution. But the bank incorrectly recorded the check as a $155 deposit. By the time the department and the bank discovered the error and attempted to collect the correct amount from the probationer, the funds were no longer available.

Acting Probation Director John Plackis said in response to the audit that the errors have been corrected and the department is working to collect the remaining $15,421 owed, although the offender is no longer on probation.

Plackis also said Maragos “failed to recognize that nearly $3 million in restitution was successfully delivered to crime victims by the Probation Department. It’s unfortunate that some beneficiaries did not cash the funds issued to them, and the department reminds all beneficiaries that a change of residence can be easily filed with Probation to ensure delivery.”

Officials said some crime victims leave the state without notifying the department while others change their identity and address with no further communication.

The audit also discovered 1,102 checks, totaling $266,365, that have failed to be delivered to crime victims, often for more than three years.

While state law requires Probation to spend up to a year to locate the victim, an agency accountant said the department had not mailed out follow-up letters to beneficiaries since December 2011. Plackis said the department now will use DMV records to locate beneficiaries.

State law also requires the department to put uncashed payments that are more than a year old into a trust fund for crime victims who have been waiting for restitution in other cases. But auditors said the last payment made from the fund was in December 2011.

Plackis said the department is updating its caseload system to find victims with the oldest unsettled restitution orders.

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