Cindy Folefack
Managing Editor

Audit records show former department assistant purchased Apple tablets, bikes with university funds

Former UTD staff member Linda Heard made her first court appearance on March 29 after being indicted on a felony theft charge earlier this year. Heard is accused of stealing $130,000 from the university.

According an expenditures investigation report from the Office of Audit and Consulting Services dated Feb. 9, 2018, Internal Audit investigators reviewed Heard’s purchases using department funds from September 2012 to December 2017. The report lists 55 items worth a total of nearly $22,000 that appear to be personal purchases. While 45 of the items were located and being used for UTD business according to Heard, the report noted that some of the purchases “did not appear to be the best use of university funds.”

The expenditure investigation report was shared with UTD officials by Chief Audit Executive Toni Stephens. The report states the investigation began after allegations were made to a chemistry department employee that Heard was using university funds for personal use.

“When we do audits when we look at things at the university, sometimes things come to our attention,” Stephens said. “It was not an outside tip: It was something that an auditor within our Internal Audit office found.”

Stephens said she could not comment on details of the case as the police investigation is ongoing. The report details two meetings between Heard and Internal Audit from Dec. 11-12, 2017. During the first meeting, Heard said 21 of the items were at her personal residence or “on campus somewhere.” The following day during a second meeting, 10 items remained unaccounted for, with Heard stating they were lost, damaged, unable to be located or she didn’t recall purchasing them, according to the report.

Department Head for the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry Ken Balkus declined an interview but said in an email that the department was shocked and disappointed after the discovery and that Heard’s future depends on the legal system.

According to the One Card Program User Guide, employees are not allowed to use department funds for personal expenditures or to purchase controlled assets without pre-approval. Controlled assets include cameras, cellphones, computers and tablets, among other items. Additionally, purchases made with the cards are meant to be identified through account codes to categorize purchases.

Among the 10 items unaccounted for in the report were Apple AirPods, an iPad, a 7-speed bike, a 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt display and other items totaling over $2,000. The report notes that of the 45 items that were accounted for, some were not properly reviewed or categorized based on account codes.

The report closes with recommendations to improve the review process and documentation for purchases, as well as improving the accuracy of account codes. Vice President of Budget and Finance Terry Pankratz confirmed these changes were being made in an email statement to The Mercury.

“There have been several changes made to improve our financial controls around purchasing cards,” Pankratz said. “Some of these include establishing mandatory annual training, consistent and stringent review of all purchasing activity and more levels of approval for purchases. These enhanced actions are aimed at further reducing the possibility of inappropriate expenditures.”

Heard is due back in court on April 26 where she faces a minimum of two years and a maximum of 20 if found guilty. Several members of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as university officials declined or did not respond to requests for comment. Heard’s attorney, Sean Bejuk, declined to comment. A media representative for District Attorney Greg Willis did not respond to requests for comment.