Ind. AG seeks reimbursement for misappropriated township funds

Bryan Cohen Mar. 16, 2012, 1:42pm


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (Legal Newsline) - Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a lawsuit on Friday against a former Benton Township trustee who allegedly misappropriated more than $97,000 in public funds.

Heather Cohee, who was the Benton Township trustee from January 2008 until her resignation on March 1, allegedly owes the township $97,694.89 for multiple acts of misappropriation, including overpayaments of salary and undocumented expenses. Cohee was named as a defendant in the civil lawsuit after a State Board of Accounts certified audit report determined the alleged misappropriations.

"When public servants pilfer from those they are supposed to serve, it undermines public trust in our government," Zoeller said. "The public treasury must be reimbursed for these repeated acts of dishonesty and we will use the legal tools at our disposal to compel repayment from this defendant."

In its audit, the State Board of Accounts examiners allegedly found more than 200 instances between January 2008 and December 2010 in which Cohee made insufficiently documented payments to herself or family members out of township funds. Alleged payments included Cohee's own undocumented phone calls and mileage reimbursements.

The audit also allegedly found undocumented payments to Todd A. Cohee, her husband and the township clerk, and Brittany Cohee, her daughter and the assistance clerk. The payments were allegedly unsupported by contracts, invoices, receipts or other public records, which are required by law. Heather Cohee is legally responsible as the office holder for reimbursing allegedly undocumented expenses totaling $78,209.31.

Cohee was also allegedly overpaid for office rent reimbursement by $1,961.27 and $2,150 in net salary overpayment. Heather Cohee and her daughter Brittany Cohee are jointly and individually responsible for repaying $2,370 in alleged salary overpayments that Brittany received. Heather Cohee must also reimburse the SBOA an additional $13,004.31 in auditing costs due to the allegedly incomplete and inaccurate condition of the former trustee's records.

When the SBOA issues a certified audit report, it enables Zoeller's office to attempt to recover money to reimburse the public treasury for the amount that was allegedly misappropriated. Zoeller's lawsuit seeks $97,694.89, plus triple damages from Heather Cohee, along with $2,370 from Brittany Cohee for her role in the alleged misappropriation.

Zoeller's office also announced a temporary restraining order to freeze Heather Cohee's assets on Friday, including her four vehicles, house, bank accounts and retirement accounts, until a hearing can be held on the state's motion for a preliminary injunction on March 23. If the injunction is granted, Cohee would not be able to sell, transfer or conceal the property until the lawsuit is resolved to preserve assets that may be able to reimburse Benton Township for the alleged misappropriations.

Zoeller's lawsuit seeks civil judgments against Heather Cohee and Brittany Cohee. The civil judgments would allow Zoeller to pursue monetary judgments through collections, garnishing wages, attaching liens on property or taking any other actions a creditor could take against a debtor to collect on a debt.

State Farm Fire and Casualty Company of Bloomington has also been named as a defendant because the company wrote a $15,000 surety bond on Heather Cohee as an insurance policy against potential theft. By naming the insurance company, the state seeks to redeem the surety bond as an attempt to partially reimburse the township for the amount that is owed. Any money owed not covered by the bond would be Heather Cohee's personal responsibility.

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