Complaint filed against auditor who OK’d Tammany coroner’s books

Mandeville CPA Brent Silva has been performing annual audits of the St. Tammany Parish Coroner’s Office since before Peter Galvan took office in 2000, and while some of the first reviews revealed problems, Silva’s firm gave the agency mostly clean reports in recent years.

Those rosy assessments contrast starkly with a critical audit filed by a new firm — Carr, Riggs & Ingram LLC — hired to look over the books in 2012.

And it’s those differences that are cited in a complaint filed Tuesday against Silva with the state Board of Certified Public Accountants.

Terry King, a vocal critic of the coroner who has sued over his wife’s termination, filed the complaint, which also names Kim Kelly, former chief financial officer for the coroner.

The complaint questions the timing of Silva’s departure from the firm Silva, Gurtner & Abney LLC, late last year, which King says happened around the time the Coroner’s Office was compelled to provide financial information in response to the Kings’ wrongful-termination lawsuit.

“Coupled with the audit findings in 2012 and the lack of findings for many years preceding that audit, it is easy to speculate that there may have been a lower level of diligence being performed than is expected by a CPA firm,’’ King wrote.

The critical 2012 audit by Carr, Riggs & Ingram found that documentation was lacking for sick and annual leave cashed in by employees. There was also little explanation for employee spending on gasoline, restaurants and personal shopping trips, where items auditors described as unusual for a government entity were bought with Coroner’s Office credit cards without pre-approval.

That audit and another, performed by LaPorte Sehrt Romig Hand CPAs in 2006, mark the only times during Galvan’s tenure that a firm other than one involving Silva conducted the annual audit. Both of those audits found problems.

Silva did not return multiple calls for comment, nor did the firm Silva, Gurtner & Abney, which was paid $18,350 by the Coroner’s Office in 2012. But state records show that Silva was removed from membership in the firm in November. Court records from Silva’s divorce case, filed in 22nd Judicial District Court last year, make clear that his departure was not voluntary. On Sept. 17, 2010, he “was expelled from the certified public accounting firm of Silva, Gurtner & Abney, LLC,” the court filing said.

King’s complaint to the state board included an earlier complaint against Kelly that he had lodged in January with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. It questioned her spending on gas, food, travel and other credit-card expenditures.

It also cited a 2009 email from Kelly that was tendered to King during discovery in his lawsuit. That email, sent from an account associated with Kelly’s outside work for the cosmetics company BeautiControl, said that she was in the middle of the annual audit review and was “working on projects with Dr. Galvan’s subsidiaries and taxes at his request.”

Galvan has a private medical practice. King’s complaint questions whether Galvan was using Kelly’s services on private business matters, saying that it could be an abuse of office and possibly payroll fraud.

Kelly’s attorney, Vincent Wynne, declined to comment on the complaint filed Tuesday, which he said he had not seen.

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants turned King’s complaint about Kelly over to the Society of Louisiana CPAs, according to a letter sent to King on Jan. 16. That group has not responded, King said, and he noted in his new complaint that Silva sits on its ethics committee.

“Please review that complaint concerning the practices of Kim Kelly and determine whether independence of the auditor, Brent Silva, and/or auditing firm was impaired,” King wrote.

Silva first did audit work for the coroner as a member of Skarda & Silva LLP, and audited the agency’s books for Ted Brustowicz, who was Galvan’s predecessor.

The first audit Skarda & Silva did for Galvan covered 2000 and 2001 and found no instances of noncompliance. The following audit performed by that firm, which covered 2002 and 2003, did not find any instances of what accountants call “material weakness” — deficiencies or combinations of deficiencies that make it unlikely that misstatements will be prevented or spotted. But it did find five instances of what it termed significant deficiencies and five instances of reportable noncompliance.

The 2004 audit, also by Skarda & Silva, found one instance of material weakness: receivables were not maintained in a timely manner, invoices for services rendered were not remitted to agencies, and amounts owed from prior-year services were not reconciled to any ledger or copies of invoices.

The Coroner’s Office responded to that audit by saying that it would hire a full-time financial agent. The next year, several instances of noncompliance were again found by Skarda & Silva, and the Coroner’s Office reiterated its promise to hire a financial agent.

Galvan’s office did not answer a question about whether Kelly was hired in response to those audit findings.

His operation was also criticized in multiple audits, performed by three different firms, for failing to amend its budget when amounts spent exceeded those budgeted by more than 5 percent.

In the 2012 audit, the difference between actual and budgeted spending was $2.9 million, or 61 percent.