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12-10-2014

COUNTY CASH DISAPPEARS
Unsolved mystery: Money vanishes
from treasurer’s office

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

More than $1,200 in cash is reported missing from the Platte County Treasurer’s office. A criminal investigation is conducted by the sheriff’s department. A now-former county employee becomes the focus of the investigation, and a statement of probable cause against her is presented to prosecutors. A special prosecutor from Clay County declines to file charges, determining that the “burden of proof is not present to get a conviction.”

That’s what has quietly played out under wraps inside the Platte County government complex since early September.

The Landmark learned of the situation in recent days, and on Friday put in an open records request for all the investigative reports and documents related to the case. The sheriff’s department responded to the newspaper’s request in timely fashion, turning over nearly 70 pages of documents to The Landmark late Tuesday afternoon.

The documents indicate that on Nov. 21, the Clay County prosecutor’s office told investigators no charges would be forthcoming. And apparently neither will any details as to why prosecution is being declined.

Jim Roberts, criminal services coordinator for the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office, said no one from the office would be commenting.

“When they decline to file charges it’s due to insufficiency of evidence, and that’s as far as a prosecutor would ever comment,” Roberts said in a phone interview with The Landmark on Tuesday.

The person who had become the focus for investigators is Rene B. Solomon, age 30, of Kansas City in Platte County, one of only two employees who was working under Rob Willard, the county treasurer, at the time the money shortage was reported.

Reached by phone Tuesday night, Solomon spoke openly with The Landmark. She said she was happy to hear the news that there would be no criminal charges.

“Yes, I was relieved to hear that. I think it was a bunch of nonsense. I’m relieved that I don’t have to stress about it anymore,” Solomon said.

The cash became unaccounted for during the short time--about two weeks--that Solomon was an employee under Willard.

Police reports say the money was “determined to be stolen between Tuesday, Sept. 9 and Monday, Sept. 15.”

So what does Solomon think happened to the cash?

“I don’t really know,” she told The Landmark.

Documents indicate Solomon eventually quit talking with detectives. She declined the chance to take a lie detector test and she failed to show up at scheduled meetings with investigators, police say, and avoided repeated phone calls from detectives.

According to police reports, the other treasurer’s office employee took a lie detector test and passed, as did Willard.

Solomon said “there were different reasons” she declined to take the lie detector exam.

“I don’t really care to discuss that,” she told The Landmark.

“Are you really doing a story on this? This isn’t news,” Solomon said of the missing public money and resulting probe conducted by the sheriff’s department.

As for the investigation, Solomon said: “I think they probably spent more money trying to figure it out than what was actually missing.”

While allegedly not being as cooperative with investigators as her boss thought she should be, Solomon confirmed she was eventually placed on administrative leave by Willard on or around Sept. 16.

She said a few days later she was notified that her employment was being terminated.

“They sent me a letter,” Solomon said, saying the letter explained the reasoning as being “at will.”

Is she upset that the county let her go?

“Of course I am. I loved working there, I loved the people, I loved that job.”

Willard, the county treasurer, is tight-lipped about the matter.

“The Platte County Treasurer’s Office does not comment on personnel matters. The treasurer’s office fully cooperated with law enforcement and quickly brought the matter to their attention. This office did not comment (before now) to maintain the integrity of the investigation and shall not comment further,” Willard said in a written statement provided after a request for comment from The Landmark.

Solomon said she is not currently working anywhere, though she added: “I have prospects.”

Prior to her stint in the treasurer’s office, Solomon had worked for 12 months in the county auditor’s office under Kevin Robinson. Solomon said her position with the auditor was a temporary one and that’s why she accepted the offer to join Willard’s staff to replace a retiring treasurer’s office employee.

“I had been at the auditor’s office for a year,” Solomon tells The Landmark. She said she worked 30 hours a week in the position with the auditor. “I loved that office,” Solomon said.

HOW IT BEGAN
According police reports, on Monday, Sept. 15, Rob Willard, Platte County treasurer, and Kevin Robinson, county auditor, met with sheriff’s department investigators. Willard advised that over the past two weeks his office had cash shortages on three occasions, totaling $1,211.60. According to police, Willard told detectives that his office has only two staff members, Robin Urteaga and Rene Solomon.

The police report says that on the morning of Sept. 8, the branch manager of the Bank of Weston in Platte City contacted the treasurer’s office to advise that the bank deposit was short. The bank deposit slip for Sept. 5 receipts was made out for $1,002.60 but the cash within the envelope totaled only $441.60, amounting in a shortage of $561, according to authorities.

Police say that afternoon, the bank returned the deposit bag containing the $441.60 to the treasurer’s office. The bag with the money was placed in the bottom right drawer of Rene Solomon’s desk, per office procedure, according to the investigative reports.

Police say Willard told detectives he was not informed of the cash shortage until Wednesday, Sept. 10, when he was told of the shortage by Solomon.

According to the police report, on Friday, Sept. 12, Justin Kuder from the county auditor’s office found a $209 cash shortage in the deposit bag for the business day. Authorities say Kuder had decided to perform a spot audit of the deposit bag upon learning of the previous deposit shortage.

According to the police report, on Monday, Sept. 15, it was discovered that the cash bag returned by the bank on Sept. 8 containing the $441.60 had never been re-deposited with the Bank of Weston, and that money was now missing.

According to law enforcement, Solomon told investigators that as far as she knew, only “the three of them” had a key to her drawer, referring to herself, Willard, and the other treasurer’s office employee.

As spelled out in police reports, there were three incidents of lost cash: $561, $200, and $441.60 for a total of $1,211.60 in missing money.

THE INVESTIGATION
A reading of events documented in sheriff’s department reports outlines that Solomon’s personal financial activities eventually became the primary focus for investigators.

According to the police report, for nearly two hours on Sept. 16, Detective Rich Ford conducted an interview with Solomon. Ford says Solomon denied having any knowledge of the theft of the money. Ford says Solomon was asked if she would submit to the lie detector exam.

“She stated she would need to consider that, because her father had a bad experience” with such an examination in the past, according to Ford’s report.

“During my interview with Solomon, I perceived that she was being deceitful in her answers, based on her body language (barriered posture, lack of eye contact). I began asking Solomon some interrogative questions and Solomon terminated the interview and left the room,” the detective wrote in his report.

According to police documents, a report showing the activity for the electronic keyless entry fobs for the employees of the treasurer’s office for the time period Sept. 2 through Sept. 17 was produced. According to law enforcement reports, it showed that Solomon attempted entry into the Admin West employee entrance twice at 7:16 p.m. and once at 7:32 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 3. The police report says Solomon was denied entry on all three attempts due to “timezone violation,” meaning the attempts were made during times when she is not authorized to be in the building unless accompanied by an employee with a higher security authorization.

The police report says Willard made entry though the Admin West employee entrance at 1:57 on Sunday, Sept. 7 and into the Admin East employee entrance at 12:20 on Saturday, Sept. 13 and again at 3:33 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 14.

No other entry attempts were made outside of regular business hours, the report states.

According to the police report, a subpoena of Solomon’s bank records by the sheriff’s department indicates that she had fees for overdrafts, extended overdrawns, and returned items.

The police report states that at about 4:09 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 9, Solomon made a $600 ATM deposit to her checking account at Bank of America. This deposit brought her balance to $602.53, according to the police report.

According to the police report, her next transaction is the next day, when she made a checkcard payment to KCP&L for $426.74, reducing her balance from $602.35 to $175.79.

According to police documents, her $600 cash deposit was made the day after the Monday, Sept. 8 treasurer’s office cash deposit that was sent to the Bank of Weston was determined to be short by $561, investigators say in their report.

“Solomon’s $600 cash deposit was also made after Solomon left the treasurer’s office at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 9. The shorted treasurer’s office deposit, containing $441.60, was stored in Solomon’s desk drawer since office closing on Monday, Sept. 8, and never redeposited with the Bank of Weston,” it is written in the sheriff’s department investigative reports.

Police reports show that investigators eventually prepared a statement of probable against Solomon. According to the police report, investigative documents included details of financial problems that Solomon allegedly faced with KCP&L and other personal financial matters that the investigation had uncovered.

According to investigative reports supplied to The Landmark by the sheriff’s department, KCP&L officials told investigators that the power had been disconnected at Solomon’s apartment on Monday, Sept. 8. That is the same day, according to the police report, that bank officials notified the treasurer’s office about the short bank deposit.

Subpoenas for bank records of the other treasurer’s office employee “did not find any questionable deposits or payments,” according to the sheriff’s department reports.

Seeking to avoid any appearance of a conflict, the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office turned the matter over to the Clay County Prosecutor’s office.

On Friday, Nov. 21, Detective Richard Ford received a phone call from Clay County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Zach Thompson. Thompson, the special prosecutor, told Ford he had determined “that the burden of proof is not present to get a conviction” and that he was declining prosecution.

This week, Willard declined the chance to address Landmark questions about whether any advanced security measures have been taken in the treasurer’s office since the incident. He provided only the written statement provided earlier in this article.