published Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

Cumberland County audit finds $134,245 veterans cash shortage

ONLINE

See the comptroller's report about former Cumberland County Veteran's Service Officer Mark Allen Daniels online here.

More damaging allegations surfaced Monday against a Crossville, Tenn., man arrested almost a year ago on charges he embezzled money meant to assist veterans and help them obtain benefits.

Former Cumberland County Veterans Service Officer Mark Allen Daniels racked up a cash shortage of $134,245 over a three-year period, according to a report issued by the office of State Comptroller Justin P. Wilson.

Daniels did that, the report found, by writing $28,579 worth of checks to himself and his wife, writing another $14,630 in checks to vendors to obtain cash and making $79,152 in cash withdrawals.

The funds came from an account that the Veterans Service Office opened before it became a county department in 2009, the report states, and county officials weren't aware that the account still existed.

Daniels was indicted on Sept. 10, 2012, by the Cumberland County grand jury on theft charges. He's accused of stealing between $10,000 and $60,000, said Assistant District Attorney Gary McKenzie of the 13th Judicial District.

"Right now, what he's charged with is what we believe we can prove," McKenzie said. The D.A.'s Office will look at the comptroller's report, he said, to see if it can use the information to help prosecute Daniels.

"Maybe we can, maybe we can't," McKenzie said.

The comptroller's report focuses on mishandled money, while the DA's case focuses on funds that Daniels allegedly stole.

"There is a distinction between the two," McKenzie said.

For example, while it might have been improper for Daniels to withdraw cash to spend on veterans, it's hard to prove that Daniels spent cash improperly.

"There are vets who we've interviewed who said he spent cash money on them," McKenzie said. "I know Mr. Daniels is actually well thought of in the community."

Daniels also deposited $21,057 in personal checks and cash into the account, the comptroller's report found, leaving a total unpaid cash shortage of $112,438.

The comptroller's report recommends the county take immediate steps to collect the $112,438.

The comptroller's office began its investigation on April 17, 2012, the report states, after it was informed of suspected irregularities.

While the comptroller's office is happy to help law enforcement officials, that's not the reason it does audits, spokesman Blake Fontenay said.

"We do audits regardless of what's happening in the criminal cases," Fontenay said. "We were investigating and local law enforcement were investigating. One does not exclude the other from happening."

State officials say government officials in Cumberland County have put in place "a number of changes that are intended to prevent similar problems from recurring in the future," the report states.

Daniels declined to comment Monday. His next scheduled appearance in Cumberland County Court is at 8:30 a.m. CDT on Sept. 18.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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