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County out nearly 50k in email scam
Some on commission call for Wondra to resign
new deh county commission 5-24-16 pic web
Barton County commissioners Don Davis, Alicia Straub and Jennifer Schartz discuss the email scam that hit the County Treasurers Office last week during their meeting Monday morning. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 In other business Monday morning, the Barton County Commission:

• Approved a supplemental agreement for design services on High Risk Rural Roads signing project. Barton County was approved by the Kansas Department of Transportation for the HRRR sign replacement project in 2015. KDOT has since prepared the supplemental agreement to raise the compensation to the design firm of Kirkham-Michael, Ellsworth, from $18,788.19 to $30,200.94, County Engineer Barry McManaman said. 

The original project scope was to prepare plans for the replacement of existing signs. Added was analyzing no-passing zones signage to assure the signs were going to be placed in the correct locations. As it turned out, there were several changes made.

McManaman said the cost will be reimbursed 100 percent by the state.

• Approved an agreement with Kansas Gas Service for the replacement of a gas line. Kansas Gas Service has a four-inch 350-psi high-pressure natural gas line that needs to be lowered in order to construct the channel and rock rip rap for a bridge project east of Great Bend. The gas line is on private land, not on county right of way, therefore the cost of adjustment is the responsibility of the county, McManaman said.  

KGS has offered to split the cost with the county. Under agreement, the county would be responsible for one-half of the cost, that being an estimated $28,750. If any additional cost is incurred, that too would be split with KGS.  

 First, the good news. Barton County’s digital firewall and security was not breached when County Treasurer’s Office fell for an email scam asking for the wiring of $48,600 to a bank in Georgia.

Now, the bad news. The county is still be out nearly $50,000 and those funds may never be recovered.

This was the summary of the situation presented by Barton County Administrator Richard Boeckman to the County Commission Monday morning. However, it was difficult for anyone to look on the bright side.

In fact, some on the commission saw this as just another screw up by Treasurer Kevin Wondra. The office has been plagued by problems in recent years that have led to blemished audits.

“I am disappointed in you,” commission Chairman Don Davis said.

Commissioner Jennifer Schartz referred to an earlier remark by Wondra that he would consider resigning. “I think it would be a service to the taxpayers of Barton County if you revisited that.”

But, while not justifying the actions, Commissioner Alicia Straub came to Wondra’s defense. “Based on the attacks made on him in the past he may not have been comfortable calling Richard.”

She was alluding to Wondra Calling Boeckman who was at meetings in Lawrence last week to ask about the transaction and the treasurer’s failure to follow strict county protocols for such expenditures.

And, it was noted, these are professional scammers. Barton County was not the only victim.

“I don’t have a lot to say,” Wondra said. “ I knew he was out of town. I assumed the county had something going on that I was not aware of. The emails looked real.”

Because of all this, Wondra said he thought this was an exception to the rules.

Boeckman outlined the normal procedures. 

First, the county pays for everything via invoice, but there wasn’t one here.

Second there has to be an account number, which there wasn’t.

Lastly, even Boeckman couldn’t have signed off on an expenditure of this size. It would have required commission approval.

“We have appropriate internal controls in place,” Boeckman said. “They just weren’t followed.”

Unfortunately, the county’s auditors are at work now on the 2015 audit. “They said we were on our way to a clean audit this year,” Boeckman said.

The scam changed that. The county could be cited for a material deficiency in the 2015 audit for this, even though it took place in 2016.

What’s next?

The Sheriff’s Office and Information Technology Department were notified. It appears no other county funds are at risk and no breach of security had occurred. 

Sheriff Brian Bellendir said he has opened a theft investigation. The probe is ongoing and any potential suspects or leads will be examined. 

Due to the fact the funds have crossed state lines The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also been notified, Bellendir said. Although, in the big scheme of things, this is a small amount and may not attract much federal attention.

As of this time the funds have not been recovered. “There is a chance, albeit slim, that we could recover at least part of the money,” Bellendir said. 

The sheriff said the funds bounce from bank to bank before they are withdrawn, making it hard to trace. The money could also wind up overseas.

“This is common,” Bellendir said of the scam. He sees it about once per month, only with private citizens being the victims.

Now, he considers this an active theft by deception case. It will remain such until there is some resolution.

Boeckman said there is also a chance that the county’s insurance could cover the loss. However, that is now in the hands of the insurance adjustors.


According to Boeckman, here’s what happened.

At about 9 a.m. Friday, May 13, the Barton County Treasure’s Office received a series of emails instructing staff to transfer funds by bank wire from the county general fund to a bank in Atlanta, Ga. The emails were alleged to have come from the Barton County Administrator’s Office.  

Boeckman noted that there were numerous spelling and grammatical errors in the messages.

Then, on Monday, May 16, $48,600 was transferred. The next day, during the normal course of business, a Treasurer’s Office employee requested information as to how the transfer should be recorded. 

The County Administrator’s Office replied it had no knowledge of the transfer. It was at this time the crime was discovered.

IT Director John Debes said some professional “phishing” operation probably got a hold of a list of governmental email addresses, set up a server and went to work. Barton was not alone and even the City of Great Bend received the email, but didn’t fall for it.

Ironically, Debes said he just sent a memo to county employees last week about the threat of phishing scams. In these scams, as the name implies, the criminals send out thousands of emails spoofing real addresses just waiting from someone to bite.