Clerk blames turnover, human error as N.C. Auditor finds deficiencies at Pender Superior Court office

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Updated: Jun. 21, 2019 at 12:32 PM EDT
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - In a routine audit of the Pender County Superior Court Clerk, the North Carolina State Auditor’s Office found notable deficiencies and examples of non-compliance with financial regulations, in some cases in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The audit covered the period of July 1, 2018 through Jan. 31, 2019.

In that period, auditors found two items of concern: the Clerk’s office had failed to properly transfer unclaimed funds to the state, and the office was not collecting the required level of security bonds for minors and incapacitated adults.

Government agencies are required to adhere to the accounting principles of the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB), which dictate a variety of procedures known as “internal controls,” and require offices such as a Superior Court Clerk to conduct business in a certain way.

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Pender County Superior Court Clerk Elizabeth Craver, who won re-election in 2018, said she and her office accept the findings of the audit, and have worked to remedy the issues that led to the deficiencies and non-compliance.

In her letter to the auditor’s office, Craver did not cite Hurricane Florence, which was causing backlogs of cases earlier this year.

When someone applies to become an estate guardian of a child or incapacitated adult, they are required to submit a bond of either 125 percent of the estate if the total is less than $100,000, and 110 percent of the estate is worth more than $100,000.

Of the 32 estates under guardianship within the Pender County court’s jurisdiction, five were found to have insufficient bonds.

According to the report, the combined amount for the bonds should have been $1,094,073, but Craver’s office had only collected $379,250.

Beyond being a failure to comply with state law, not collecting the correct bond amounts could cause actual financial harm to children or incapacitated adults.

“Failure to assess and collect sufficient bonds from guardians could result in financial loss to the ward if the guardian misuses the assets in the estate,” the report reads. “Additionally, the Clerk and the State may be liable for the financial loss if bonds are not sufficient.”

Craver’s office called the situation an “oversight” and said it was due to human error.

When someone dies and leaves property behind without a will, the Superior Court Clerk attempts to find heirs or others with a claim to it. If they can’t, that property is supposed to be transferred to the state treasurer’s office after a certain period of time.

When the audit was conducted at the end of January, the state found 121 pieces of property worth a total of $69,673 — about 56% — of what Pender Superior Court had, should have been transferred to the treasury according to state law, but the office had not done so.

“As a result, the return of unclaimed funds to the rightful owners has been delayed,” the audit report reads, adding that the earnings on the fund, which are used to fund loans and grants to North Carolina college students, would also be negatively affected.

The Craver’s office cited being short-staffed and a high turnover of employees as the reason the office was not addressing the unclaimed property in a timely manner.

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