Palm Tran audit urges tighter property controls

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Nearly six months after a Palm Tran employee was arrested for stealing office supplies and selling them on eBay, an audit released by Palm Beach County Inspector General Sheryl Steckler is recommending a series of changes to prevent future thefts.

In the first audit released by her staff, Steckler's team found that Palm Tran did not properly inventory computer equipment and that its office had incomplete surveillance camera coverage and security controls at the time of the thefts.

Melissa Siladke, an executive secretary with the bus service, was arrested in August and charged with grand theft, dealing in stolen property, official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud.

She allegedly stole more than 162 items, the vast majority of which were toner cartridges. The items were valued at $18,934, according to the audit.

The theft occurred over three years and was ultimately detected by Palm Tran officials after they put another staff member in charge of monitoring the toner inventory and changed the way purchases were ordered and received.

During the 2008 budget year, Palm Tran spent roughly $2,600 on toner cartridges. By 2010, that number had grown to $23,052, the audit found.

Dennis Schindel, the inspector general's audit director, also found that Siladke was also responsible for processing payroll records and timesheets at Palm Tran Connection, which provides door-to-door bus service for the disabled.

Although Schindel found that several of the department's time sheets had not been signed or certified as correct, there was no evidence that any of the payroll records had been falsified.

Steckler's team said Tuesday that many of the changes recommended as a result of the audit have either already been corrected or are in the process of being implemented by Palm Tran's staff.

"They were actually making changes while we were doing the audit, which we think is a good thing," Steckler said.

In a four-page response to the audit, Palm Tran Director Chuck Cohen, said he welcomed the inspector general's findings, adding that they could help prevent thefts in the future.

"We found your audit process to have been a very detailed and fair process, one that we believe would enable us to close out this issue with a high degree of certainty that there will be no opportunity for repetition of such an occurrence," Cohen wrote.

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