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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The ousted commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home was overpaid by more than $90,000 over nearly two years but didn’t report it even though he knew it was too much, a special investigation released Thursday found.
A report by State Auditor Rob Sand identified $105,412 in improper disbursements for former Commandant Timon Oujiri, including $90,027 of gross wages and $15,385.84 of related payroll costs. The excess pay and benefits were a result of Oujiri’s time sheets for two-week periods showing 112 hours instead of 80 hours in the state’s payroll system.
Oujiri was dismissed by Gov. Kim Reynolds without explanation in May, after he had for four years led the state's nursing home for Iowa veterans in Marshalltown. The nursing home serves serves about 500 Iowa veterans and their spouses and employs more than 900.
As a salaried instead of hourly employee, Oujiri’s pay was to remain at a steady level regardless of the hours he worked in a pay period. As of 2020, a state database shows that his annual salary was $126,000. Efforts by The Gazette to contact Oujiri, who lived at Cumming, have been unsuccessful.
Reynolds’ spokesman released a statement Thursday saying Oujiri was terminated for “job performance issues.”
“Because the underlying issues were financial in nature, the matter was referred to the Auditor’s Office,” spokesman Pat Garrett said. “We are working with the Attorney General’s Office to recover any overpayments received by Oujiri.”
The state kept $11,625 that Oujiri was to receive for unused vacation time as partial repayment for excess payroll costs, Sand said. The audit report will be shared with federal officials because federal funds are used for Veterans Home salary costs, Sand said.
Veterans Home officials also are seeking to recover the employer’s and employee’s shares of contributions to the state retirement system for the unauthorized wages. If successful, the home would get a credit of about $14,161.
The improper payments came to light as the Iowa Department of Administrative Services was preparing to switch to a new payroll system. In April, when the staff compared the home’s authorized pay levels with what employees there were actually getting, “a concern was identified with the amount disbursed to Mr. Oujiri beginning at the end of fiscal year 2019,” the audit said.
Officials with the Governor’s Office met May 4 with Oujiri to discuss the overpayments that had been discovered. He said during the meeting that “he definitely noticed his pay was too much in the summer of 2020,” the report said.
Auditors said the home’s payroll staff had manually overridden a default total of hours for Oujiri’s pay periods, effectively increasing a formula used for his base pay. The staff had not seen an email instructing them to use the default total of 80 hours -- instead of 112 -- that had been established in changing to the new system, the report said.
“According to representatives of the Governor’s office, Mr. Oujiri stated he was ‘too embarrassed’ to say anything about the overpayment,” the audit report said. “In addition, when Mr. Oujiri was asked whether he knew the overpayment had occurred, he initially stated he believed the increase was to put him ‘on par’ with other directors. However, upon further questioning, he reported he knew the pay was too high and stated that he ‘thought about calling, but didn’t.’”
Oujiri declined to talk with law enforcement or auditors, the report said. Copies of the report were sent to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Marshall County Attorney’s Office, the Polk County Attorney’s Office and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
The auditor’s report included recommendations to strengthen the Veterans Home’s internal controls, including ensuring payroll journals are reviewed each pay period by someone independent of processing payroll and knowledgeable of reasonable pay ranges to ensure propriety of pay amounts.
Monday, Reynolds named former Marine Corps Maj. Matthew Peterson as the new commandant of the home.
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