Though nothing is official, Hilliard still appears poised to commission a forensic audit of the city's financial controls that would determine how a former employee accused of stealing more than $500,000 could have done so.

But some questions are appearing via public records as the inquiry into the accusations against Heather H. Ernst, 47, the former deputy director of the Hilliard Recreation and Parks Department, continues.

"We are moving in a new direction (and) working hard toward determining how this occurred, making sure it does not happen again and holding those who may be responsible accountable," Hilliard City Councilman Les Carrier said Aug. 28. "Our ultimate goal is securing the return of taxpayer dollars."

A standard audit by Schneider Downs is underway, but Carrier has said he wants a forensic audit that would delve into past controls before the thefts were believed to have begun.

The Schneider Downs audit is not complete, law director Tracy Bradford said Aug. 27. She said July 24 that findings were expected in four to six weeks.

A forensic audit would require council to appropriate additional funds and no such legislation has been presented for City Council's consideration, Bradford said.

Typical financial audits confirm the accuracy of a company's financial records, according to basic accounting principles, but forensic audits go deeper, focusing on an issue defined by a client, examining financial information to determine if it is accurate and lawful and meeting standards for use as evidence in a trial, if necessary.

Meanwhile, City Council met Aug. 27 for more than hour in a closed executive session to discuss litigation, one of the authorized reasons in the Ohio Attorney General's Sunshine Laws manual.

On March 15, Hilliard filed a civil lawsuit against Ernst, who was paid an annual salary of $88,280.59 and had benefits valued at $43,155, according to the city.

The lawsuit seeks restitution of the money she is accused of stealing: more than $500,000 in daily cash deposits from the city's two pool facilities from May 2013 to fall 2017.

The civil complaint against Ernst is not set for trial until April 2019.

Ernst also faces eight felony counts in a separate criminal case.

A Franklin County grand jury on March 1 indicted Ernst for one count of theft, a third-degree felony; one count of theft in office, a third-degree felony; two counts of tampering with evidence, a third-degree felony; and four counts of filing incomplete, false, and fraudulent tax records, a fifth-degree felony.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges March 15.

Her trial dates have been continued on multiple occasions. The latest trial date in the courtroom of Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge David Cain is scheduled Sept. 26.

But a few recent developments associated with the case have occurred, according to public records.

According to common-pleas court records, a motion was granted Aug. 23 accepting the withdrawal of the law firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister as counsel representing Hilliard in the civil case against Ernst.

As of Aug. 28, no entries indicated new counsel for the city.

When asked Aug. 28 if the city would select new legal counsel for the civil complaint, Bradford said yes.

Meanwhile, other public records indicate Ernst sold a residence she co-owns months after Hilliard initiated its civil lawsuit.

According to the Franklin County Auditor's Office, Heather and Moses Ernst sold a residence at 4639 Schirtzinger Road for $375,000.

The property transferred July 12, records indicate.

Records also show that Phyllis and the late Wilbur Ernst sold a residence at 4643 Schirtzinger Road for $475,000.

That property also transferred July 12, records show.

Advanced Drainage Systems, 4640 Trueman Boulevard, purchased both properties, according to court records. ADS manufactures plastic pipes and water-management products, and it is a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, according to its website.

Phyllis Ernst is the mother-in-law of Heather Ernst and was married to Wilbur "Will" Ernst.

She also is a former director of the Hilliard Parks and Recreation Department, and Hilliard's Phyllis A. Ernst Senior Center bears her name.

How the property transfers would affect the civil suit is unclear.

Meanwhile, year-to-date pool-admission fees at both facilities could serve as a benchmark in a forensic audit.

Carrier said a forensic audit might result in a finding that the actual theft exceeds the amount initially reported as part of the criminal investigation.

Through Aug. 17, the city collected pool-admission fees of $254,996 from both facilities, including $225,239 from the Hilliard Family Aquatic Center, 3850 Veterans Memorial Drive, Bradford said.

According to records provided by Bradford, the city collected $140,551 in receipts from both facilities all of last year.

In 2016, total receipts were reported as $104,151.

Other totals Bradford provided are as follows: 2015, $93,698; 2014, $68,852; 2013, $67,651; 2012, $89,054; 2011, $81,498; 2010, $72,354; 2009, $62,764; and 2008, $83,853.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo