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Published: Saturday, 5/10/2008

Employee indicted for theft, tampering

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - A long-time employee of the Wood County Health Department has been indicted on charges she pocketed money paid by members of the public for birth and death certificates.

Julie A. Friess, 60, of Bowling Green was indicted this week by a Wood County grand jury for theft in office and tampering with records, both felonies. She is to be arraigned Friday before Common Pleas Judge Alan Mayberry.

Ms. Friess began working for the health department in 1979, most recently as registrar in charge of birth and death records for the county. Bill Ault, health department administrator, said she was placed on administrative leave Feb. 4 and resigned March 3, citing personal reasons.

Wood County Health Commissioner Pamela Butler said the alleged theft was discovered internally in January when irregularities were detected with the serial numbers for birth and death certificates issued by the county. Each certificate is produced on special, certified paper that comes to the health department numbered. Ms. Butler said officials discovered that not all of the certified paper was accounted for.

"What we think happened, and that piece is being investigated, is if you're the one who requested a birth certificate and you gave me $19 [cash], at that point I could take your request, pocket the $19, and destroy the piece of paper you requested it on, shred it," Ms. Butler said. "Now you have the birth certificate, but I have no documentation you ever came in. That's how we think it happened."

Paul Dobson, an assistant Wood County prosecutor, said the indictment does not allege how much money was taken because investigators don't know for sure. Theft in office is an offense that applies to public employees or officials.

"The dollar loss is not going to end up being so important as it is depending on what we can prove as the violation of the trust that was put in her with the citizens," Mr. Dobson said.

Health department officials said it's unlikely they ever will determine how much money allegedly was stolen over what time period.

"We know the customer got what they wanted, but as far as what was actually put into the county funds, that we cannot say for sure," Mr. Ault said.

The health department takes in between $40,000 and $45,000 a year for birth certificates and $110,000 to $120,000 a year for death certificates, Mr. Ault said, adding that revenue has been "consistent" in recent years.

"There haven't been any major fluctuations," Mr. Ault said.

He said in light of the recent investigation, the health department has revised the way it processes and documents requests and receipts for birth and death certificates.

"At this point in time, it's a lot stronger than it was before," he said. "It's one of those things where we didn't know it was a problem, so we didn't fix it."

Scott Coon, attorney for Ms. Friess, said he had not seen the indictment yesterday and could not comment.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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