Ex-Trustee Ordered To Repay Thousands Paid To Family

Audit: Trustee Paid Husband, Daughter

The State Board of Accounts is demanding a former Monroe County township trustee repay more than $95,000 after an audit revealed questionable expenditures involving family members.

Benton Township Trustee Heather Cohee stepped down last week amid criticism that she hired her husband and daughter to perform tens of thousands of dollars of work for the township without proper documentation.

The Attorney General's Office told RTV6 on Monday that it will likely file a civil lawsuit against Cohee to recover the public funds, as well as a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to freeze her financial assets.

According to the audit, Cohee hired her husband, Todd, also a Monroe County Sheriff's deputy, to perform jobs such as cemetery mowing, parking lot paving, snow removal and landscaping.

Auditors said she also hired her daughter, Brittany, to do regular cleanings for the township, but the trustee had little documentation to support where the money actually went.

Todd Cohee served as the Township Clerk and Brittany Cohee served as the Township Assistance Clerk.

Auditors said Heather Cohee repeatedly did not file a conflict of interest statement for her husband or her daughter, which is a Class D felony.

Heather Cohee was unavailable Monday to discuss her resignation or the audit with RTV6.

Daniele Coe is handing the books for now, while the township board figures out the next steps.

"I don't have a comment on what has gone on, but I know the board is doing everything it can to make sure business goes on as usual," Coe said.

Board member Lynn Stevens told RTV6 that the board would do everything possible to get the taxpayers' money back, and said they scheduled an emergency meeting Monday night to discuss options.

Legislation focused on nepotism and conflicts of interest, Senate Bill 170 and House Bill 1005, is advancing in the state Legislature, but critics argue it still won't do anything to address the issue of government officials hiring their family members on taxpayer dime.

The legislation says a government unit can "(1) a contract for the procurement of goods and services; or (2) a contract for public works; with a relative of an elected official or a business entity in which a relative has an ownership interest if the elected official does not violate the criminal conflict of interest statute and the elected official makes full, written disclosure and satisfies any other requirements of the public purchasing law or the public works law."

"In our small and rural communities, it's tough to find people willing to step up to the plate and really work hard at what they do," said Larry Curl, a lobbyist for the Indiana Volunteer Firefighters Association.

Curl told RTV6 that the legislation won't prevent officials from hiring friends and family, but it will prevent government officials from volunteering as firefighters.

"We did the research, and there's 500 of them currently serving in those capacities, and some of them have been there for 20 years, and they're going to have to make a choice," Curl said. "We believe it's an unfair and unjustified piece of legislation."

The authors of the nepotism/conflict of interest legislation were unavailable to talk with RTV6 on Monday about the bills.

As for criminal charges, the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office did not return a call seeking comment.

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