VALPARAISO – The Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts (APA) published its audit on the Valparaiso Public Library on April 9 and found that Library Director Lori Springer allegedly made $1,894.34 in questionable purchases through the library’s Amazon.com account.
The Valparaiso Village Board closed down the library on Jan. 27 for the pending audit, and the APA arrived on Feb. 9 “for the purpose of examining the Library’s holdings to determine whether any of the items that Springer had purchased could be identified,” the report said.
Prior to this examination, the APA received the Amazon statements of the over $8,000 in purchases made by Springer since her employment began in 2016. The APA found 35 questionable purchases made by Springer starting at the end of 2018 and most recently July 13, 2020.
The village board began requesting full Amazon statements from Springer in June 2020, previously receiving nonspecific billing from Springer. The board was not given the full Amazon statements from Springer until they were given access to the library’s Amazon account.
In these purchases, the APA found 18 questionable purchases of college textbooks “which appear to have been for Ms. Springer’s son, who is currently enrolled at Nebraska Wesleyan University with an Athletic Training major,” the report said.
The auditor also confirmed with university staff that these textbooks were “required or recommended for courses offered there during the times of purchase.” The 18 textbooks cost a total of $1,130.10.
When the APA visited the library on Feb. 9, they found these textbooks in a storage closet, but had not been entered into the library system for public use. The APA reported that board members said Springer had been given “unsupervised access” to the library after the library had been shut down.
The APA suspects that during her unsupervised time in the library, she could have returned the books and “tamper(ed) with the facility’s book collection.”
“Consequently, the purchase of these textbooks appears to have served no governmental purpose, giving rise to concerns regarding the possible unauthorized expenditure of public funds solely for Ms. Springer’s own personal benefit,” the APA reported.
Along with these college textbooks, the APA found three cookbooks and cleaning supplies in the same storage closet as well as another cookbook on a shelving cart. Springer made suspicious purchases of five cookbooks that were also not in the registry for $67.26.
Other questionable purchases include several Hydro Flask water bottles and other sports-related items. One Hydro Flask cost $63.33 which included $23.38 for overnight air shipping.
“The APA remains perplexed by, among other things, the Library’s supposed need – as well as the apparent urgency thereof – for such an acquisition,” the report stated.
The auditor’s report listed a missing Dell Laptop from the library. In April 2019, Springer bought four Dell Laptops and at the time of the APA’s visit on Feb. 9, only three were located. This laptop cost $345.98.
The report indicated that there are several other possible questionable purchases made during Springer’s time, but were not included in the report.
“These were not included among the other purchase details, however, because several of the items were perishable or would be difficult to track – even if actually used for the Library,” the auditor reported.
The report also includes questionable expenditures of over $1,000 in ink cartridges, with only two printers at the library, over $400 in air fresheners and scented oil and the purchase of a “significant amount of cleaning supplies” including a Swiffer wet floor cleaner, despite the library being carpeted.
Springer, also a member of the Raymond Central School District Board of Education, did not respond to interview requests. The Waverly News also reached out to Raymond Central Superintendent Dr. Derrick Joel who said until the district completes the letter, they will not have a comment.
According to Nebraska State Patrol Public Relations Director Cody Thomas, the Nebraska State Patrol investigation is still active. The village submitted a response to the APA’s findings, thanking the auditor for their thorough audit and expressing the general disappointment in the fraudulent purchases this being the second time in 13 years the library has experienced this misuse of funds.
“It is extremely disappointing the fraudulent purchases identified by your audit,” the response said. “We as a village are experiencing this type of financial abuse for the second time in 13 years. Once we have a new library board in place, we will address all outlined issues expressed in the audit. We also would like to have restitution and other expenses associated with this fraud perpetrated by Lori Springer repaid to the village.”
In 2009, former Library Director Mary Rittenburg was charged with theft by deception for obtaining property from the Valparaiso Public Library. It is reported by the Wahoo Newspaper that she took over $1,500 between April 1, 2006 and March 10, 2009. While the Class 3 felony charge was dropped, her legal counselor Susan Kirchman stated in court that an agreement had been reached to pay restitution and court costs in exchange for the charges being dismissed. Rittenburg was also employed as a guidance counselor at Raymond Central at the time, but resigned from the position in April 2009.
In the current audit, the APA cited several statutory concerns related to the fraudulent purchases made by Springer and advised that the village “implement procedures to prevent one person from being in a position both to perpetrate and to conceal financial errors or irregularities.”
The APA also recommended that the village work with the proper agencies in regards to Springer’s actions. The report said they will forward this information onto the Nebraska Attorney General, the Nebraska State Patrol, the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission and the Saunders County Attorney as well as the Nebraska Department of Revenue and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.