Since investigators from the Ohio Attorney General's Office already are here reconstructing financial records in cases pending against two funeral homes, Warren police Chief Eric Merkel should invite the forensic accountants to also probe discrepancies in financial records concerning parking tickets in the city.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins requested assistance from Attorney General Mike DeWine in investigating cases against the Robert McDermott Memorial Home in Niles and the McClurkin Funeral Home in Girard. McDermott is accused of taking $150,000 in pre-need funeral payments for personal use. McClurkin is accused of doing the same with $400,000.
The money people pay in advance for their funerals is supposed to be deposited into insurance accounts. The Ohio Department of Insurance is also investigating.
Now let's turn to the parking ticket situation.
In 2009, Warren Municipal Court Clerk Peggy Scott received from Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. a list of unpaid parking violations, including the violator and the amount owed. The city contracted with WRAP to write parking tickets. The city contracted with a Michigan-based company to collect the fines; that contract was terminated in late 2009.
When Scott began attempting to collect, the people on the list of violators began producing receipts as proof that they already paid. Scott then stopped collecting and discarded the list. She recently told the Tribune Chronicle that she could not say how much money in unpaid fines was on the list. It is believed to be about $100,000.
After the Tribune Chronicle reported the discrepancy last month, Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas Gysegem contacted Merkel. Gysegem also suggested that maybe the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification could assist.
Whether it's appropriate for BCI&I, more convenient for the attorney general's forensic accountants who are already here, or adequate for the Warren Police Department to handle the investigation really doesn't matter as long as taxpayers get an answer. Gysegem took the right step in solving the parking ticket money mystery. Hopefully, taxpayers will soon know whether the discrepancy is an accounting error, fraud, or something else.