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Missing cash focus of water utility probe

State auditor investigating $5,000 in cash discrepancy.

Weeks after paying $795 cash at the Montgomery County office downtown to keep his Dayton home’s water on, Diego Cuazitl received a notice threatening shutoff on Feb. 2. His payment was voided, county records show, and his money wasn’t deposited.

This was one finding of an internal investigation obtained by the I-Team of more than $5,000 in water bill payments and solid waste tipping fees — all in cash — that a county employee allegedly collected but didn’t deposit into county coffers, leading to at least eight people receiving water shutoff notices weeks after paying their bill.

“The actions of this employee created significant inconvenience for these folks,” said county Administrator Joe Tuss. “It is something I’m upset about, and it makes me angry.”

County customer service specialist Rozalin Smith resigned Feb. 4, after being on paid leave since Jan. 15 pending the investigation. She worked for the county since 1987 and made $41,898 in salary in 2014, according to county records.

Smith could not be reached via phone or a reporter visiting her Trotwood home Tuesday.

Hundreds of pages of investigative records, obtained by the I-Team using Ohio public records laws, show that the investigation revealed two separate allegations involving Smith.

First, on Jan. 7, a state auditor conducting a routine audit asked about a discrepancy between cash received and cash deposited from a scale house at the county solid waste facility. An investigation was launched immediately that found six instances in 2014 where cash received at scale houses wasn’t deposited.

All of the deposits, totaling $3,172, were handled by Smith, part of whose job was to accept the money and double-check the amount before passing it along to the county auditor to deposit.

A day after Smith was placed on leave, customers started calling and showing up at the county office asking why they received delinquent notices after paying their home utility bill. This includes Cuazitl, who showed the cashier a receipt showing he paid $800 cash on Dec. 31 and received $4.34 in change.

‘I got kind of mad’

“They told me they’ll take care of the problem,” said Cuazitl, who said he has 10 people living in his home, including two children ages 2 and 11 months, so he needs water.

County officials investigated and found 22 cash payments that were received, then voided, by Smith in January. Nine of these accounts were delinquent, despite records showing the customer had paid cash to settle them, for a total of $1,946. Other payments were voided and later re-posted.

Cornel Burch of Dayton called the county after getting a notice threatening shutoff on Feb. 2. He had a receipt showing he paid his $139.58 water bill on Jan. 5.

“I figure I’m old school. If I pay in person, I shouldn’t have any problems,” he said. So when he got the shutoff notice, “I got kind of mad then and I said, ‘I’ve paid you guys, I’m not going to pay you twice.’”

County officials told him they were looking into the problem, but didn’t tell him what happened.

County officials say the cash discrepancy totaling $5,118 is still being investigated by the state auditor, whose findings will be handed over to law enforcement and the county prosecutor.

Tuss said he believes they have identified all of the water customers impacted, and no one’s water was turned off. He said the county is looking at ways to tighten cash controls and will implement whatever recommendations come from the state auditor.

“I really believe that we’ll have systems in place that will assure the county’s customers that these sorts of things won’t happen in the future,” Tuss said.

Officials say Smith is the only county employee under investigation or suspended in relation to the discrepancy.

Previous disciplinary issue

Smith’s personnel file includes a demotion in 2006 after an internal investigation concluded she knowingly took 29.5 hours of sick and vacation leave without recording the time off in the county’s payroll system.

At that time she worked at the Sunrise Center for the county Department of Job and Family Services. She was docked the amount of vacation and sick leave she took and had her pay cut 56 cents an hour.

Smith was transferred to Montgomery County Environmental Services in 2011, according to county records. As a cashier at the water department office downtown, she accepted thousands of dollars in utility payments a week.

Marshall Lillard’s water would have been shut off Tuesday if he hadn’t gotten back from a trip to Florida this month to find the delinquent notice in the mail.

Lillard said he specifically remembers paying his bill before he left for the trip in mid-January and recalls he was the only customer there and the cashier appeared to be there by herself.

“She took the money. She gave me a receipt. I knew I paid the bill,” he said. “I got the notice when I got back from out of town.”

Lillard went back in and another cashier told him they’d take care of it. But he wishes they would’ve told him what happened.

“Wouldn’t you want to know what’s going on when you pay your money out for a water bill and get a disconnect notice?” said Lillard, who recently retired from Children’s Medical Center.

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