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Former Benton parks secretary arrested for fraud and theft

July 6, 2012

Benton Lt. Scotty Hodges, back, and Officer Tracey Gillham escort Kitty Smith, a former administrative assistant for the Benton Parks Department, to a police vehicle on Thursday afternoon after Smith was arrested on theft and fraud charges. Smith allegedly stole close to $5,000 from the Parks Department, authorities said. (Courier photo by Matt Burks)

A former administrative assistant for the Benton Parks Department was arrested Thursday on charges of fraud and theft of city funds, authorities said.
Just after 1 p.m. Thursday, Kitty Smith, 57, with hands cuffed behind her back, repeatedly said, "I have nothing to say" and that she had "no response" to questions by a reporter of The Saline Courier outside the Benton Police Department.
Lt. Kevin Russell, public information officer, said that Smith faces charges of felony computer fraud, theft of property and falsifying business records. Just before 5 p.m. on Thursday, Smith posted a $5,000 sheriff's bond at the Saline County jail.
Smith is scheduled to appear in Benton District Court at 1 p.m. on July 24. Russell said Smith was taken into custody at 11:45 a.m. on Thursday at her home with "no problems."
"We cannot release any of the details (of the investigation) right now because there is a distinct possibility that more charges could be forthcoming relating to this incident," he said. "It had to do with all of the ledgers and the accounting practices and all of the things that went on (at the Benton Parks Department)."
Russell said that though "anything is possible," there is no indication "at this time" that any other persons would be arrested in connection with the alleged crimes of Smith. He said the investigation is ongoing.
The investigation of Smith began in April when an independent accountant report from the local CPA firm Yoakum, Lovell and Co. revealed discrepancies in the accounting practices related to the concessions stand cash fund; the findings indicated approximately $6,445 of "unaccounted funds" from the Benton Parks Department. The amount was derived by a calculation of expected revenue from sales at the concessions stand minus expenses. A lack of transactional receipts for purchases made for supplies was the main impetus for the investigation.
The accounting firm's review pointed out a lack of paperwork and receipts for transactions related to the cash box used for concessions stand operations. The report stated that purchases were made for concessions stand supplies by Smith using her personal checking account or debit card. Smith would then reimburse the purchase using cash from the concessions stand fund.
Former Parks Director Curtis McCormack and Smith were placed on administrative leave until Benton police completed an investigation into the concessions stand cash fund. McCormack was cleared of wrongdoing, including wording in a letter from Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane to Benton City Attorney Brent Houston that "McCormack had no involvement in the missing funds or knowledge of the violations."
In the same letter, it said that Smith "admitted to purposely and willfully altering financial business records to conceal or modify losses in the concessions account" and that Smith "admitted to purposely taking cash money from the concessions account for her own personal use with the willful intent to deprive the city of these funds. The amount of which is still to be determined through financial records being obtained."
Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane added in the letter that "Smith's cooperation in this investigation has become difficult. We are obtaining a subpoena in this matter to obtain her bank statements, to determine a more exact amount of theft. Upon completion of our investigation, the investigative file will be submitted to the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney for a file decision."
Though she initially denied any criminal activity, the police investigation determined otherwise and Smith was subsequently fired in early May. However, it wasn't until Thursday that criminal charges were filed.
"Any time you are involved in a case dealing with numbers and accounting practices, you have to take your time to follow different avenues that the case may go," Russell explained about the time it took for charges to be filed. "It made it time-consuming. It is also the fact that we wanted to do a thorough investigation prior to making any arrests."
After the competition of the audit and investigation into the concessions stand cash fund of the parks department, McCormack retired as the parks director on June 15.
Benton Mayor David Mattingly announced during a June 27 City Council meeting that Robert Edwards had been appointed to serve as the interim director of the Benton Parks Department. The mayor also announced that he would be forming a review committee — comprised of city officials plus private residents who would assist him in reviewing applications for the job — to assist him in selecting a permanent replacement for the park director's position.
Anyone with information regarding this incident is encouraged to call the Benton Police Department at 778-1171 or 315-TIPS (8477). Individuals also may send an anonymous text with information to the number CRIMES (274637) with the keyword BNPD in the text of the message.

Saline Courier staff writers Lynda Hollenbeck and Josh Briggs contributed to this report.

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