After former Associate Director of the Kimmel Student Involvement Center Michelle Welter was found guilty of embezzling from the university, Kimmel re-analyzed prize-handling procedures to ensure future thefts would not happen.
Welter was investigated in 2017 by SIUE police for allegedly stealing electronics and other merchandise.
Charges were first filed in June 2018, and, according to Madison County Circuit Clerk records, Welter waived her right to a preliminary hearing. A trial date was set for a month later. After multiple reschedulings, Welter pleaded guilty on Feb. 19, 2019 and was sentenced to 2 years probation with a cost of $269. On March 6, the case was listed as closed, with the bond of $269 being satisfied.
Director of the Morris University Center, Student Success Center and Kimmel Kelly Jo Karnes said Kimmel analyzed their processes regarding prizes last summer due to Welter’s case, and changes were implemented the following fall semester.
Karnes said changes were made in terms of the times prizes are purchased and how they are stored and inventoried.
“I think we have looked at structures as in how far in advance we buy prizes, because every time you buy stuff you have to store it, and then where are you storing it?” Karnes said. “We don’t have a lot of space, and so we’ve put some limits on that as well as just making sure we have a good check-in process of all those prizes — that they’re inventoried, that we know which event they’re going to be for, and then, once the prize is given away, that we list what was given away and to whom.”
Due to limited storage space, Karnes said Kimmel must carefully plan out when employees buy supplies and prizes. She said they were — and still are — prohibited from storing university items in their homes.
“We are not buying a bunch of stuff for an event seven months from now, so we’ve got to buy it before, keep it locked up and then [distribute] it to the winners,” Karnes said.
Purchasing power was not unique to Welter’s position. According to Procurement Officer Starla Nixon, there are about 500 purchasing cards held at SIUE, and each department handles its own purchasing control systems.
“There are controls in place,” Nixon said. “There are people who buy the purchases and then there is someone different who would reconcile the purchase — that means that they would apply the budget purpose numbers and put in the information regarding what was purchased, and then there is someone who approves the purchase. That is typically someone in the department at a leadership level.”
Within Kimmel, Karnes is the one who approves the purchases. Because of this, she does not hold a purchasing card. She said full-time staff members in Kimmel hold the cards, and the money used comes from a variety of sources, including Pepsi dollars, student fees and revenue generated by the MUC. While Kimmel’s changes were not targeted directly at the purchasing process, it maintains surveillance over the use of purchasing cards.
“We are purchasing things and buying things as a building constantly, so whether we are buying supplies for textbook services or the Cougar Store, whether we are buying prizes, it is the norm that people have the ability to purchase,” Karnes said.
As far as purchasing card violations are concerned, SIUE Police Chief Kevin Schmoll said it is up to the department supervisor to place sanctions on the employee in question.
“There could be some type of purchasing violation, and we would then turn that over back to a supervisor of that department to handle,” Schmoll said.
Because Welter’s case presented criminal offenses, the police moved forward with an investigation. According to Schmoll, when an employee engages in an activity that is potentially criminal, a supervisor typically contacts either him directly or the non-emergency department line, and, from there, the police determine how to proceed.
“If there is something there, we would continue our investigation,” Schmoll said. “If there is nothing there, then we would stop our investigation and turn it back over to the department, and they’ll deal with it themselves, but there has to be a criminal element to us for us to conduct a criminal investigation.”