Embezzled utility payments leave some Oklahomans in the dark

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 24, 2015 5:08 PM

By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) - Some residents of a southern Oklahoma town were without electricity on Tuesday because of an embezzlement scandal that has played havoc with municipal finances and left power bills unpaid.

According to an audit released by Oklahoma’s State Auditor and Inspector, the former treasurer of Ryan, Oklahoma, Patricia Laskowski admitted to embezzling an estimated $3,000 to $4,000 per month from residents’ payments of utility bills from April 1, 2013, to March 31, 2015.

Shut-off notices went out starting on Friday for those whose bills went unpaid. Between $122,795 and $159,108 in total may have been misappropriated from customer’s utility billing, the report said.

Laskowski, who resigned her job in July, was not immediately available for comment.

Auditors said that Laskowski also admitted to using the town’s Wal-Mart Community Card as her personal credit card to buy items including groceries, clothes, hunting supplies, cell phones, a digital camera, a high definition Nook reader and two boom boxes.

She also made an additional $17,000 worth of purchases at Office Depot using the town’s money, the report said.

Although the town required two signatures on each municipally issued check, Laskowski had a rubber stamp bearing the mayor’s signature.

As the town plays catch-up on its utilities, residents had been asked to bring proof of payment to City Hall by Nov. 10 to make their accounts current with the municipal government.

Ryan has about 800 residents and is two hours south of Oklahoma City, near the Texas border.

(Reporting by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton; Editing by Jon Herskovitz)