Auditor: Iowa Veterans Home leader knew he collected $105k in excess pay

By: - July 29, 2021 1:29 pm

Former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri, who was relieved of his duties earlier this year. (Screen shot from Iowa Public Television press conference.)

The former head of the Iowa Veterans Home collected $105,413 in improper, excess wages since 2019, Iowa Auditor of State Rob Sand said Thursday.

A new report from the auditor’s office says former IVH Commandant Timon Oujiri collected $90,027 in questionable gross wages and $15,386 in related payroll costs. The excess pay and benefits were paid out as a result of Oujiri’s timesheets showing 112 hours, rather than 80 hours, worked in each two-week pay period.

In addition, state auditors said as of early this week, IVH officials had not filed a formal wage adjustment to recover contributions made to the retirement system due to the excess, unauthorized wages collected by Oujiri. At the suggestion of the auditors, IVH officials are now seeking to recover the employer’s and employee’s shares of retirement contributions tied to the excess wages.

The governor’s office issued this statement Thursday:

“Former commandant Oujiri’s employment was terminated effective May 5, 2021, due to job performance issues. Because the underlying issues were financial in nature, the matter was referred to the Auditor’s Office and resulted in the report filed today. We are working with the Attorney General’s Office to recover any overpayments received by Oujiri while employed for the State of Iowa.”

– Pat Garrett, spokesman for the governor's office

On May 4, 2017, then-Gov. Terry Branstad appointed Oujiri commandant of the IVH.  As a salaried employee, he was to receive the same gross wages each pay period regardless of the amount of time he worked within each pay period.

Three months ago, while preparing to transfer to a new payroll system, DAS employees reviewed various agencies’ payroll information for accuracy  and compared the facility’s authorized payroll amounts to the amounts actually paid and discovered there were discrepancies related to Oujiri dating back to June 2019. The issue was reported to the governor’s office and, after further review, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office fired Oujiri on May 5, with no public explanation offered.

The audit report says officials with the governor’s office met with Oujiri on May 4 to discuss the overpayments. Law enforcement officials reported they “reached out” to Oujiri to request an interview, but Oujiri declined. He also declined to meet with state auditors, the report says.

Audit report: Commandant told governor’s staff he was ‘too embarrassed’ to report overpayment

During the meeting with the governor’s staff, Oujiri “acknowledged he had been overpaid since the summer of 2019,” the report says. It adds that “Oujiri also reported during the meeting he definitely noticed his pay was too much in the summer of 2020. According to representatives of the governor’s office, Mr. Oujiri stated he was ‘too embarrassed’ to say anything about the overpayment. In addition, when Mr. Oujiri was asked whether he knew the overpayment had occurred, he initially stated he believed the increase was to put him “on par” with other directors. However, upon further questioning, he reported he knew the pay was too high and stated that he ‘thought about calling, but didn’t.’”

Prior to June 2019, the number of default hours in the payroll system for certain department directors was set to 56 hours per week, calculated as eight hours per day, seven days per week, or 112 hours per pay period.

Beginning in June 2019, the effective hourly wage rate for these individuals was recalculated based on an 80-hour pay period. While this increased their effective hourly wage, their bi-weekly gross pay should have remained unchanged.  In a July 2019 email to all personnel assistants in various state agencies, state human resources officials stated the number of hours recorded for employees with a default of 56 hours per week was to be changed to 40 hours per week.

However, the IVH workers responsible for entering hours in the payroll system for the staff, and who received the email, told auditors they did not recall receiving it. It appears a member pf the IVH payroll staff overrode the number of work hours credited to Oujiri, changing it from 80 hours back to 112 hours for each pay period from July 2019 through April 2, 2021. The net effect was an unauthorized increase in the amount of Oujiri’s paychecks  from $ 4,646 to $ 6,642.

The result was that Oujiri’s salary increased to $172,681.60, which “significantly exceeds the $128,890  maximum” for the position, auditors said. “because Mr. Oujiri was aware of the maximum allowable salary for the position, it should have been clear to him the pay increase he received beginning with the pay period ended July 11, 2019 was not appropriate,” the auditor’s report states.

According to the report, during an interview an IVH employee told an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations agent that Oujiri had stated more than once that he felt his pay should be higher and he was going to talk to a representative of the governor’s office about that.

Auditors reported that Oujiri was entitled to receive an $11,626 payout for his unused vacation time when he was terminated from employment in May, but in lieu of paying out his unused vacation balance, state officials retained the money as partial repayment for excess wages.

The auditor’s report includes recommendations to strengthen the Iowa Veterans Home’s internal controls, including ensuring payroll journals are reviewed each pay period by someone independent of the payroll-processing system and knowledgeable of reasonable pay ranges.

Copies of the audit report have been filed with the DCI, the Marshall County and Polk County prosecutor’s offices, and the attorney general’s office.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.