The former Callaway County Collector in mid-Missouri used property tax money that should have gone to schools and other local bodies to coverup more than $300,000 in county funds she took. During a press conference this week in Jefferson City, State Auditor Nicole Galloway says a state audit has found that Pam Oestreich had been stealing county dollars since 2016.
Oestreich, who resigned earlier this year in response to criminal allegations, has pleaded guilty this week to federal theft charges. Civil charges could also be in the works against Oestreich.
Local bank officials sounded the alarm earlier this year and notified the county of unusual bank activity. They requested an immediate meeting with appropriate county personnel.
“More than $244,000 in cash was simply not deposited,” says Galloway. In an attempt to cover those cash shortages, the former collector would shift money from other accounts. In some cases, the former collector would remove cash from the deposit at the end of the day before it was deposited in the bank account. In other cases, she would take cash as it was collected throughout the day.”
Galloway says 130 deposits were found to have cash shortages.
“Frequently she issued a check from a county bank account she controlled to cover the theft and make the books seem even and whole,” says Galloway. “Funds would then be redirected from property tax collections to conceal the improperly-issued checks that covered the missing cash.
She says the audit revealed $217,000 in property tax collections that were redirected.
“This has a direct impact on the community because those dollars should have gone to schools, cities and other local entities. To put it in another way, there was a shell game of moving money between various accounts under the collector’s control in order to conceal her theft,” says Galloway.
She says Oestreich also took appropriately-collected utility and railroad property taxes and put it into another account to cover shortages. She says the railroad and utility fund was maintained outside of the normal property tax system.
“Ultimately, whatever action is taken to recoup funds, some of that money will be dispersed to local taxing entities like schools, cities and other entities that should have gotten these property taxes to begin with,” she says.
The audit also found that Oestreich issued more than $71,000 in checks to herself from an account that she controlled. The checks were typically rounded dollar amounts with no reasonable explanation found by auditors to issue the checks.
Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann says the county is working to determine the financial impact the scheme has had at the local level.
“We’ve got good relationships with the schools and everything,” says Jungermann. “They’re all well aware of what’s going on in that office and they are also, I’m sure, well aware that they probably have money coming at some point.”
Galloway’s office has suggested better county oversight to prevent such activities from happening again.
Tim Wilkerson has been appointed to serve as the Callaway County Collector.