Platte County commissioners demand that treasurer personally repay lost money

Platte County commissioners have demanded that county treasurer Rob Willard personally repay more than $20,000 lost after an email scam victimized his office last month.

A letter signed Tuesday by the three commissioners also demands that Willard pay more than $1,900 in attorney fees. They set a June 21 deadline for him to repay the county.

In a separate letter, commissioners asked county prosecutor Eric Zahnd to investigate Willard for spending county money without proper authorization and to impose any penalty allowed under Missouri law.

“We believe this is the right thing to do for the person who made this error, who failed to follow policy and procedure to make the county whole,” said Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber.

Last month, Willard said a fraudulent email duped him into sending a $48,000 wire transfer to a bank in Florida. He made the transfer after receiving what he thought was an email request from Schieber to pay for a state tax consultant.

However, Schieber did not make the request. Willard was spoofed as part of an internet scam that has victimized several other counties in Missouri and Kansas.

Willard said that once he realized that his office had been scammed, he contacted the county’s bank, alerted the sheriff’s office and filed a complaint with the FBI.

Investigators have not determined the source of the fraudulent emails.

Wells Fargo has transferred about $28,000 back to the county general fund.

On Wednesday, Willard said the demand letter surprised him and he is reviewing his options.

“We were spending all of our energies on doing everything we could to recover the money and work with the financial institutions, and it appears that the commission has taken a different focus,” Willard said.

As county treasurer, Willard said he is bonded and his office is insured. Willard said he has worked with various banks and the county’s insurance provider to recover the funds.

“This was a mistake. It was not malice,” he said.

Zahnd said his office is not an investigative agency and the commission should refer the matter to the Platte County Sheriff’s Office or the Platte City Police Department. If either of those agencies determines that wrongdoing happened, Zahnd said he would ask the Platte County Circuit Court presiding judge to appoint a special prosecutor to review the case.

Before being elected county treasurer, Willard worked as an assistant prosecutor under Zahnd.

If Willard does not repay the county by Tuesday, commissioners have threatened to file a claim against his public official surety bond.

“The quickest and easiest way for the county treasurer is to come up with the money and personally pay the taxpayers back for what is still outstanding,” Schieber said.

“In the ideal world, the treasurer would have said, ‘I made a mistake, I want to make it right and here’s a check,’ but that didn’t happen. And that is when we took our next step.”

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar