Topinka Pushes Local Governments to Follow the Money

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By Stephanie Tyrpak
By Randy Livingston

CARTERVILLE -- One state agency is getting proactive in fighting fraud. 

The Illinois comptroller believes government needs a little more oversight and transparency. On Thursday, Judy Baar Topinka was in Carterville teaching local officials ways to root out problems that waste taxpayer dollars.
 
Topinka believes there are some really creative criminals in Illinois. She wants government employees at all levels to better understand budgets. That way more eyes are on the lookout for missing money.
 
Southern Illinois has been no stranger to fraud.
 
*Marion water clerk, Linda Heyde, was convicted for taking home half a million dollars.
*Carterville School Treasurer, Todd Frazier, admitted to pocketing more than $70,000.
*Shawnee Valley Secretary, Myra McLane, pleaded guilty to embezzling hundreds of thousands dollars. 
 
It's a state pattern that Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka wants to reverse.
 
"We don't want to see any of our public officials doing time," said Topinka. "Orange is not necessarily a good color."
     
She's spent the past three days holding "Follow the Money" workshops in seven cities. The goal is to provide training to city, county, and township employees.
 
"Don't just rubber stamp something because somebody said it was okay," Topinka warned. "You've got to look."
     
Dozens of people gathered at John A. Logan College and listened to speakers from the FBI and the Illinois CPA Society. 
 
Accounting professionals, like Dean Snider, talked about how to pick an auditor.
 
"The whole purpose is we see an opportunity for things to go awry," said Snider. 
 
He also explained ways to prevent theft through checks and balances.
 
"So a person is not a position to make money disappear and then make the record disappear," said Snider. 
 
The tips and practices can help someone feel more confident with the budget basics. They're also more likely to spot an error before it grows into a crime and costs taxpayers thousands of dollars.
 
"Kind of like cancer," said Topinka. "Get it early, you can cure it, don't let it run away because you didn't know how to do it."
 
Topinka also encouraged local governments to be more open with their communities. That means doing as much business as possible in open session and answering public records requests. She believes that also makes it harder for someone to get away with fraud.
 
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