UNC audit uncovers $123,500 missing from performing arts series office

Arts office didn’t follow accountability best practices, report says

jstancill@newsobserver.comNovember 13, 2012 

— The box office and business operation of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Performing Arts series could not account for $123,500 in revenue that disappeared between 2007 and 2011, according to an internal university audit.

The yearlong audit revealed that during a four-year period, $121,000 in cash revenue and another $2,500 in checks were missing from the business operation that oversees the box office for performances at UNC-CH’s Memorial Hall and other arts events. The audit was released to The News & Observer following a public records request.

The audit found that before January 2011, cash deposits and records were not properly handled in the business operation of the Office of the Executive Director for the Arts. The same employee prepared, deposited and recorded cash from ticket sales – a process that did not conform to accepted business practice and left the box office vulnerable to abuse. Deposits were delayed at times for two or three weeks, the report said; university and state policy require that receipts of more than $250 be deposited the next day.

“In our opinion, these weaknesses allowed a significant loss of funds to occur without being detected at the time of the loss,” the audit report said.

One unnamed employee, who was in charge of deposits for a three-year period when $18,500 disappeared, no longer works for the university, the report said. The status of a second unidentified employee, in charge of deposits when $5,000 vanished between 2010 and 2011, is unclear. Parts of the report were redacted.

Karen Moon, a UNC-CH spokeswoman, declined to release any information about the employees, citing state personnel privacy protections and exemptions from the state’s public records law.

The matter was referred to investigators with UNC Public Safety, who could not determine a definitive suspect, said Randy Young, spokesman with the department.

“Probable cause could not be established,” Young said. Investigators consulted with the Orange-Chatham District Attorney’s Office, which declined prosecution, Young said.

SBI reviewing

The matter was turned over to the State Bureau of Investigation for further review.

Emil Kang, executive director for the arts, said Tuesday that discrepancies were found when a new business staff started in 2011 and began a review of procedures. Kang asked the university’s internal auditor to look into it; the investigation lasted more than a year.

“It was actually very surprising to us,” Kang said.

The cash-handling procedures have been strengthened as a result of the audit, Kang said, and now box office ticket sales, deposit records and a financial records system must have a “three-way match” to ensure that the money is accounted for.

“For us, the main facts are that it was very upsetting, distressing, disappointing to discover this,” Kang said, “that we actually initiated the audit ourselves, prior to finding this out, which led to this discovery and that our controls are such now that we feel confident this won’t happen again.”

The Office of the Executive Director for the Arts started eight years ago under former Chancellor James Moeser and now has an annual budget of $7.5 million. The office oversees the operations of various arts programs across the campus, most notably the Carolina Performing Arts series, which averages 43 shows a year.

Kang said he hopes the trouble is in the past.

“It’s made us more vigilant,” Kang said. “We have now gotten the blessings of internal audit folks on our systems, which I think is healthy.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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