Auditor: Ex-Oakdale clerk gave herself $769,136

Published 4:48 am Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The former city clerk of Oakdale used electronic transfers to divert city funds to herself, used city checks to divert city funds to herself and used city funds to pay two personal credit card accounts, according to a state investigative auditor’s report released Monday.

The report released publicly by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Michael J. “Mike” Waguespack included some of the same findings reported during an independent internal audit of the city’s finances last year. Those findings were released to the city council and first reported by the American Press in June.

Melissa “Lisa” Schaefer was city clerk for 19 years until her death last March.

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Among the accusations made in the reports, Schaefer manipulated Automated Clearing House (ACH) transfers to pay herself $769,136 more than her authorized salary from Jan. 1, 2014, to March 17, 2021, according to the findings.

Schaefer is also accused of signing and receiving 93 city checks totaling $59,945 during the same time period. City records show she was not entitled to $13,378 of the payments.

In addition, city funds were used to make 63 payments totaling $115,304 to two of Schaefer’s credit card accounts from Aug. 26, 2014, to Dec. 30, 2019. The city does not have any documentation to show she was entitled to receive the benefit of the payments, or that the purchases were made to benefit the city.

The wrongdoings may have resulted in Schaefer violating state law, according to the audit.

As city clerk, Schaefer’s duties included preparing budgets, reconciling city records to bank statements, signing checks and coordinating with the city’s auditor during annual audits. She also oversaw all other clerical functions including accounts payable and payroll, and often performed other clerical employees’ duties during their absence.

The state began investigating the findings last year after receiving a complaint from the city’s auditor regarding improper transfers to Schaefer’s personal bank account.

The city has accepted the findings and is taking measures to ensure that similar incidents do not occur in the future, Mayor Gene Paul said in a letter to Waguespack. Those measures include training and assigning employees to handle ACH transactions, policies for reimbursing employees, prohibiting employees from using their personal funds to make routine purchases and requiring invoices and other documentation prior to authorizing payments.

The city has also filed claims on surety bonds and has collected $105,000 to recover excess payments and intends to pursue all causes of action to recover the remaining monies, Paul said.

The audit is also under review by the Allen Parish District Attorney’s Office.