Platte County treasurer pays up to make taxpayers whole

In a surprising turn of events, Platte County has recovered the remainder of money lost in a fraudulent wire transfer initiated back in May — from the treasurer himself. 

At its regular meeting Monday, Nov. 7, the Platte County Commission approved a release and satisfaction of claim against Platte County treasurer Rob Willard, who previously refused to personally repay the funds, and acknowledged receipt of $25,822.66 from Willard. This covers the approximately $20,000 remainder of funds lost in the fraudulent wire transfer and about $5,000 in legal fees and expenses.

Rob Willard

Rob Willard

“We started this in May and I’m just glad it’s coming to an end today, within the same fiscal year,” presiding commissioner Ron Schieber said at the Monday meeting. 

On May 27, Willard wired $48,220 to a Florida bank account. A series of emails to Willard from an account spoofing Schieber’s county email account requested the money be immediately wired to pay for a tax consultant. 

Willard did so, then quickly discovered his mistake.

Platte County auditor Kevin Robinson’s followup audit found that the fraudulent wire transfer was an isolated incident, but that Willard had bypassed county policy to make the transfer. Since that time, the county has been working toward recovering the money. 

About $28,000 was quickly recovered from the receiving bank in Florida.

In June, the commission sent Willard a letter asking he personally refund the money, in addition to legal fees incurred, to the county and its taxpayers. Willard declined and the commission then filed claims with Ohio Casualty Insurance Company and Liberty Mutual Surety against Willard’s surety bond.

Since, the commissioners have waited for word from the insurance company, even learning that for a time their claim lay unattended due to the retirement of an insurance adjuster. Willard issued a public statement about the refund on Tuesday, Nov. 8, stating that he agreed to repay the funds to ensure “the taxpayers were made whole.”

“A drawn out insurance process to recover the funds would not be in best interests of the citizens of Platte County and the time and resources spent on the matter over the last five months must be refocused on the needs of our community,” Willard said. “I feel that my decision is the only way that could happen. I deeply regret my mistake and apologize to the citizens of Platte County.”

At the Nov. 7 commission meeting, Platte County attorney Bob Shaw said the check, once he receives it, would go back to Willard for deposit in the county account. Platte County second district commissioner Duane Soper was concerned about this process. 

“Can we have it go back to the auditor?” Soper asked. 

Robinson said while he would be happy to take possession of the check and record the action, it would still need to go back to the treasurer’s office to be deposited.

And while this release does satisfy the county’s monetary claim against Willard, criminal charges are still possible. Platte County judge James Van Amburg appointed a special prosecutor to investigate legal concerns surrounding the transfer from the commission.

The release does not prohibit Platte County officials from cooperating with any investigation. 
Platte County sheriff Mark Owen contacted the commissioners over the summer, notifying them his office would also investigate the situation. The transfer may have violated Missouri statute governing responsibility for county treasurers.

The commissioners cited Missouri State Statute 54.140, which reads, in part, “It shall be (the treasurer’s) duty to pay out the revenues thus subdivided, on warrants issued by order of the commission, on the respective funds so set apart and subdivided, and not otherwise; and for this purpose the treasurer shall keep a separate account with the county commission of each fund which several funds shall be known and designated as provided by law; and no warrant shall be paid out of any fund other than that upon which it has been drawn by order of the commission.”

If found to be in violation, Willard could face a misdemeanor charge with potential punishment of a fine between $100 and $500 and vacation of office.

Willard ran unopposed for re-election to his seat as treasurer on the Nov. 8 ballot.