Philly marriages bureau finds $120K missing due to one employee

The statue of William Penn atop City Hall. (JASONPARIS/FLICKR)

Happy young couples in love rush down to the Philly marriages bureau in City Hall every day to hand over $90 so they can get legally hitched. It’s $100 for a self-uniting or “Quaker” license. Three days after paying the fee, couples can officially join their lives in the eyes of the law.

But you can’t pay cash to get your license anymore. That’s because it was revealed some $122,000 in cash payments for wedding licenses went missing due to one City Hall employee.

“My team found a major flaw in the office’s operation,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said in a statement announcing the report on the Philadelphia’s Register of Wills and Orphan’s Court. “The misuse of public funds is disheartening.”

DePasquale’s report found that a total of $149,195 in cash payments for marriage licenses was unaccounted for. Some $26,615 simply could not be accounted for, “because receipts were altered, manipulated or nonexistent,” the state auditor general’s office said.

But $122,580 was definitely missing – all of it linked to one employee, they said. That employee has not been identified publicly, but was fired after the audit was completed, and is now facing an investigation and possible criminal charges.

Philly marriages bureau probed by DePasquale

The Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphan’s Court confirmed that the $122,580 in marriage license payments went missing from 2013 through 2017, tied to 1,394 transactions made by one employee’s user ID in their system.

“The office is dismayed to have discovered that missing funds were associated with a user ID in its computer system,” the office said in response to DePasquale’s audit. “The user ID was assigned to one employee in our office. … Through the program that was in place at that time, this user ID manipulated receipts through a deficiency in the computer software, resulting in the missing funds. … Ultimately, our office terminated the same person.”

Missing money leads to change at Philly marriage bureau, says DePasquale

Out of the overall $149,195 that was missing, the state lost its share of about $34,809 in revenue, DePasquale said. But he acknowledged the office cooperated with the audit and has since adjusted protocols to prevent such mishaps in the future.

“City officials fully cooperated from the moment they learned of the problem. They immediately conducted an internal investigation to confirm the audit findings and swiftly took action to revise policies and procedures and terminated an employee,” DePasquale said in a statement. “What is promising is that my audit detected the missing funds and improvements were made to the system to better protect public monies. That’s how audits are supposed to work.”

Other missing funds were due to discrepancies including some 218 marriage license issued without any payment being recorded, 26 issued for a lower amount than was due; 87 licenses charged a greater fee than was due, and 92 Philly marriages bureau receipts that were voided.

The Register of Wills and Orphan’s Court said they have taken steps to prevent these problems in the future, including no longer accepting cash, having the office’s finance director oversee a new reconciliation reporting system, and implementing new safeguards to prevent employees from modifying or voiding transactions without supervisory approval.

They also noted in their response that their record of performance under audit was otherwise exemplary, with a discrepancy of just $79 found over a five-year period during which $310 million in fees and inheritance tax was collected. They also said they have referred the records on their former employee to state and local prosecutors for possible criminal prosecution, as well as to the Inspector General and Law Department.

“We are requesting that a person associated with the specific user ID in question be investigated for any unlawful conduct,” they said.

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