Faced with the temptation of handling thousands of dollars, an increasing number of city clerks in small-town Iowa have used taxpayer money to buy items including alcohol, laptop computers, gas grills, pumpkin pies, cat litter, and self-improvement books.
"To me, it's just very frustrating," said Carrie Kirchhoff, city clerk of the 433-resident town of Lewis in southwest Iowa. "It makes the rest of us clerks look bad that really try to do a good job for our cities. And then it gets the citizens all worked up, too. How do they go on in the same community and hold their head up? It's unreal."
The number of fraud cases in Iowa cities with populations of fewer than 700 has grown from seven cases from 2000 through 2005 to 32 cases from 2006 through 2011, said State Auditor David Vaudt.
When the public and private sector are combined, Iowa was fourth in the nation last year in a ranking of states most likely to have losses from major embezzlement cases, according to a study by Massachusetts-based risk-management company Marquet International.
A bill expected to be taken up the legislature's Government Oversight Committee aims to clamp down on the fraud through increased audits and oversight.