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Alleged misspending at education center

January 1, 2019

IRONTON — A state audit shows additional improper spending of more than $62,000 by the Lawrence County Educational Service Center, according to the office of Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost.

The audit, released last week, alleges that Teresa Lawless, former educational service center treasurer, miscalculated the 2014 general fund balance that led to excessive incentive payments in 2015 to Lawless and former Superintendent James Payne of more than $40,000, according to a news release from Yost’s office.

It was the fourth audit alleging overpayments by the Ironton-based educational service center or its former charter school, according to the release.

Lawless has yet to repay any of the $424,688 she allegedly owes, according to the release. She was placed on paid administrative leave three years ago and fired last year.

Lawless couldn’t be reached for comment. She said earlier she did nothing wrong and was fired illegally.

She subsequently filed suit against the service center and won a $350,000 judgment in Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

State auditors have issued findings for recovery against Lawless and Payne.

While Payne repaid $87,794 based on incentive payments he received in 2014 and 2015, Lawless hasn’t repaid anything, according to the release.

The latest audit showed an additional finding against Lawless for $21,720 in 2017, according to the release.

“The penalties and interest incurred by the center served no proper public purposes and could have been avoided had the W-2s and accurate information on returns been remitted as required by law,” according to state auditors.

A state audit in the spring of 2017 alleged misspending of more than $45,000 at the service center. Lawless allegedly accepted questionable performance incentive payments of $169,674, according to a prior audit.

The service center board has made changes to address the issues identified in the 2017 audit, Superintendent Jeff Saunders said last year.

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