Auditor: Iowa Safe Schools misspent at least $12,000 in crime-victim funds

By: - June 1, 2022 3:12 pm

At least $12,000 in federal grant money for Iowa Safe Schools has been misspent, according to Auditor of State Rob Sand. (Photo courtesy of Iowa Auditor of State's office)

At least $12,000 in federal grant money for Iowa Safe Schools has been misspent, according to the state auditor.

The Iowa Auditor of State’s Office issued a special-audit report Wednesday indicating the office had identified $12,202 in improper disbursements – involving $7,775 tied to altered invoices and $4,427 for improper payroll costs – by the GLBT Youth in Iowa Schools Task Force, which is better known as the Iowa Safe Schools program.

According to the auditor’s report, Iowa Safe Schools also failed to maintain sufficient supporting documentation for an additional $13,700 in spending.

The audit is focused on federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants awarded by the Iowa attorney general’s Crime Victims Assistance Division to the GLBT Youth in Iowa Schools Task Force between July 2016 and December 2020. The special investigation was requested after the discovery of apparent improprieties involving financial transactions related to the VOCA grants.

Some of the spending that was deemed improper by the state auditor is tied to invoices that are either altogether fraudulent or appear to have been altered in some way, the auditor’s report states. The invoices were prepared by, and signed by, Iowa Safe Schools’ former executive director, Nate Monson.

In one instance, Monson allegedly sought and obtained reimbursement for four computer laptops at a cost of $1,000 each, but records indicated only two laptops were purchased. Monson told auditors that Iowa Safe Schools had planned to purchase four laptops, but the credit limit on his personal charge card only allowed for the purchase of two. He submitted a reimbursement request for four laptops, explaining to auditors that he intended to purchase the remaining two laptops but left the program before doing so.

The auditor’s report notes that some of the $13,700 that was spent without sufficient documentation includes $5,487 allocated for travel, $4,000 for rent and $3,400 for equipment reimbursements. Some of that spending may be allowed under the program, the report states, but federal rules require adequate documentation to make such a determination.

The auditor is recommending the governing board of Iowa Safe Schools implement procedures to ensure internal financial controls are strengthened.

The state auditor’s work focused strictly on the VOCA reimbursement requests the program submitted to the AG’s office and did not include a review of expenses related to Iowa Safe Schools’ other funding sources.

The money that’s at issue originated from the U.S. Department of Justice, which administers the Victims of Crime Act grant program that provides annual funding for each state. In Iowa, the attorney general administers the state’s share of VOCA grants. Non-profit organizations that provide some form of direct services to crime victims are eligible to seek VOCA funding as reimbursement for expenses already incurred.

Iowa Safe Schools, founded in 2002, was organized to provide safe, supportive and nurturing learning environments for LGBTQ youth and offers courses that pertain to LGBTQ issues and other societal matters. Monson served as executive director of Iowa Safe Schools until November 2020, overseeing the day-to-day operations and managing spending.

According to auditors, after Monson left, the new executive director and the board reviewed Iowa Safe Schools’ financial activities and commissioned an audit. That led to findings that suggested certain invoices and other documents may have been altered prior to submission by Monson for reimbursement.

Iowa Safe Schools then contacted the attorney general’s office, which contacted the Auditor of State to request a review of VOCA grants awarded to Iowa Safe Schools.

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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.