The state auditor levied harsh criticism against some of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics’ financial checks and policies Wednesday following an investigation into a former employee accused of misusing more than $272,000.
Jennifer Whitmore-Meier, 35, a former UI information technology support consultant charged with overseeing IT services for the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, is accused of costing the UI $272,198 in improper disbursements and undeposited collections. She also is accused of using department funds to pay more than $50,300 in unnecessary costs for things like personal cell phone bills and home internet service.
As the Office of the Auditor of State investigated the allegations against Whitmore-Meier, they developed a number of concerns about the university’s purchasing policies, reimbursement practices and oversight procedures.
During the investigation, for example, a department head said he didn’t know where information technology purchases had been recorded, and he couldn’t locate a budget for the orthopedics department.
"It does not appear the department was managed in a fiscally responsible manner," according to the report.
To view the entire report, click here.
According to the state auditor’s special investigation of the UIHC’s Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation between December 2002 and January 2012, Whitmore-Meier is accused of using department money to buy equipment that she then resold on eBay.
She’s accused of spending $34,314 on improper purchases – like iPods and Xbox games – with her university procurement card, according to the report. And she amassed $15,173 in travel costs that were improperly reimbursed to Whitmore-Meier, the report indicates.
In some cases, Whitmore-Meier did not deposit collections that were meant for the UI, including $1,170 of rebates deposited into her personal account, according to State Auditor David Vaudt.
The undeposited collections also include $876 of products that Whitmore-Meier bought with department money and later returned to the vendor, receiving gift cards that she used for personal purchases, according to Vaudt.
Items that Whitmore-Meier is accused of selling on eBay include 288 monitors, 76 Apple Time Capsules, external and internal hard drives, memory sticks, cameras, ink cartridges, iPods and other electronics.
Vaudt reported that it’s possible the amount Whitmore-Meier cost the university is higher, but some purchases and items could not be tracked.
“There was still a significant number of items Ms. Whitmore-Meier purchased which are not accounted for and which were not included in the amount of improper disbursements identified,” according to the report.
Other improper purchases Whitmore-Meier is accused of making with her UI card include iPods, Xbox games, cleaning supplies, tools and books.
She also is accused of altering or falsifying travel documents, including submitting hotel invoices and flight itineraries for conferences.
For example, Whitmore-Meier submitted a request for reimbursement for a conference in New Orleans in 2010. She asked to be reimbursed for an arrival on March 5, including lodging and meals, when she didn’t actually arrive until March 10, according to the report.
“Based on Ms. Whitmore-Meier’s cell phone records, she was in Hawaii from March 6, 2010, until March 10, 2010,” according to the report.
In addition to the improper disbursements, Vaudt reported $50,326 of unnecessary costs paid by the department, including travel expenses for medical conferences, bonuses to Whitmore-Meier for “exceptional performance” and payments to help offset her personal cell phone and home internet service, according to the report.
Vaudt criticized the orthopedics department, the UIHC and the UI as a whole in some instances for its policies and checks that allowed Whitmore-Meier to misuse funds for a decade.
According to the report, the department issued 40 procurement cards to various staff members and allowed them to "purchase items as they deemed necessary."
"Because many staff could make purchases, the department administrator was not aware of a number of the items purchased," according to the report.
The auditor recommended the department develop procedures ensuring purchases are centrally controlled.
The report criticized the department's oversight of inventory records, documentation and purchasing decisions. Regarding the UI's travel policy, the state auditor identified several concerns.
First, the policy allows reimbursement of lodging costs at "double the federal government rate."
"This is an excessive amount and not a good use of university funds," according to the report. "Quality hotels, even in large cities, can be located at much more reasonable costs than allowed by this policy."
It also noted that "travel was sometimes not necessary and not a good use of university funds."
"These instances involved IT staff traveling to medical conferences which they did not attend," according to the report.
The suggestion was for UI officials to implement policies that ensure travel vouchers are thoroughly reviewed and costs are appropriate.
The report also suggested the UI update its cell phone reimbursement policy.
"When the reimbursement policy was established, it was not common for individuals to carry cell phones as primary personal communication devices," according to the report.
The auditor recommended the UI find a way to preserve email accounts of employees who leave amid allegations of improper behavior. After Whitmore-Meier's resignation in January, her UI email account was deleted and was not recoverable, according to the report.
Copies of the report have been filed with the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Johnson County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. County Attorney Janet Lyness told The Gazette that her office received the full report Wednesday, and she's reviewing the case to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.
Whitmore-Meier could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. She does not have a significant criminal history in Iowa, according to online court records. But she was charged in 2006 and 2007 in Johnson County with financial liability coverage violations. Both those charges were dismissed, according to court records.
According to documents attached to the full investigative report, the UI placed Whitmore-Meier on paid administrative leave in November 2011 pending the investigation, during which time she continued to receive salary and benefit accruals.
She resigned from her position in January, according to the documents.