Audit reveals management, procedure and record-keeping lapses at Marion County Coroner’s Office

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A 10-month audit of the Marion County Coroner’s Office found multiple lapses in management, procedure and record-keeping.

The audit, conducted by the Indianapolis Office of Audit and Performance, looked for problems at the coroner’s office between January 2016 and June 2018. It found several examples where employees were not following city procedures designed to prevent over-spending and fraud.

Among the findings in the 20-page report, the audit found several deputy coroners were not up to date on required training and education. It also found problems with the way employees were logging mileage on city-county owned vehicles, as well as reimbursements for cell phone use and mileage on personal vehicles.

The audit also found the coroner’s office failed to verify that employees had valid driver’s licenses or car insurance before allowing them to drive city-county owned vehicles to investigation scenes.

Part of the audit examined the handling of property removed from the bodies of the deceased. The audit says the coroner’s office failed to keep computer records of things like cash, jewelry and clothing that had been removed from bodies.

Chief Deputy Coroner Alfie Ballew said all the property was still securely stored in lockers at the coroner’s office. But the items had not been entered into a computer database. Ballew said much of the property is only at the office because family members of deceased individuals have not come in to collect it, despite being contacted by the office.

State law requires the coroner’s office to turn unclaimed property in to the county treasurer or sheriff’s department. Ballew said, however, there doesn’t seem to be a clear timeline for when property is deemed unclaimed.

The report also noted an instance in 2016 when the coroner’s office had run out of body bags and was low on funding to purchase more. As a result, a coroner’s office employee wrote a personal check to buy 204 body bags.

Marion County Coroner, Dr. Leeandrea Sloan issued a written response to the audit.

“The purpose of the audit was not to allege any wrongdoing, but to identify areas where fraud could occur if left unchecked,” part of Sloan’s statement said.

“This audit, in fact, brought my attention to some things that I wasn’t aware of,” the statement continued. “While our office’s priority has been daily death investigations, the audit reveal a tremendous need for help on the administrative side of the agency as well. We requested an increase in staffing during our last audit in 2015, specifically for this purpose.”

Sloan and Ballew say the coroner’s office staffing levels and budget, just under $3 million, have remained flat since 2008. During that time, the office’s caseload has doubled, they said.

Coroner’s office records show the agency conducted 1,549 death investigations and 641 autopsies in 2008. In 2018, the office conducted 3,020 death investigations and 1,247 autopsies.

“Many of the items have been changed already, and I look forward to implementing corrective plans on the others,” Sloan’s statement said.

The audit, and Sloan’s response are scheduled to be presented to the City-County Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday evening.

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