Reason for Oujiri firing disclosed
Former IVH commandant ‘embarrassed’ by excess pay
Improper disbursements after a change in the state payroll system resulted in the firing of former Iowa Veterans Home Commandant Timon Oujiri in May.
Officials with the governor’s office met with Oujiri on May 4 to discuss concerns and during the meeting Oujiri acknowledged he had been overpaid since the summer of 2019. He noticed the overpayment at the end of July and did nothing to resolve the issue, but said he was “too embarrassed” to talk about the overpayments and he “thought about calling, but didn’t.”
The state auditor released a report Thursday indicating Oujiri was responsible for more than $100,000 in improper disbursements. He was removed from his position by Gov. Kim Reynolds, who had not given a reason or answered any questions as to why he was removed prior to the report.
A special investigation was based on the period of May 4, 2017 through May 5. A total of $105,412.85 of improper disbursements, including $90,027.20 of gross wages, were paid to Oujiri with $15,385,84 in related payroll costs.
The report states, “the excess pay and benefits were a result of Mr. Oujiri’s timesheets showing 112 hours instead of 80 hours in the State’s payroll system.”
Concerns were identified when Department of Administrative Services officials reviewed various agencies’ payroll information for accuracy in April while preparing to transfer to a new payroll system.
“When comparing IVH authorized payroll amounts recorded in the state’s system to amounts actually paid to IVH employees, a concern was identified with the amount disbursed to Mr. Oujiri beginning at the end of fiscal year 2019,” the report states.
As a salaried employee, Oujiri was set to receive the same amount of authorized wages per pay period. The number of hours recorded in the state’s payroll system for salaried employees is defaulted to an established number of hours. The state changed the payroll system to default employees to 80 hours per week without making changes to total wages. IVH employees overrode Oujiri’s default 80 hours and continued to enter 112 hours, resulting in Oujiri earning more than his approved salary. His annual salary was supposed to be $125,944 with a maximum of $128,890. The overpayments from June 2019 to April equaled an annual salary of $172,682.
“Because Mr. Oujiri was aware of the maximum allowable salary for the position, it should have been clear to him the pay increase he received beginning with the pay period ended July 11, 2019 was not appropriate,” the report states.
Oujiri was the only IVH employee affected by the change and he did not receive a notifying email from the Department of Administrative Services. IVH payroll staff did receive the email, but the employees told investigators they did not notify Oujiiri of the change nor did they recall receiving the email. Oujiri declined to meet with auditor employees and law enforcement.
At the suggestion of the auditor, IVH officials are seeking to recover the shares of IPERS contributions for the $90,027.20 of unauthorized gross wages paid to Oujiri. If successful, IVH will receive a credit of approximately $14,161 from IPERS.
Copies of the report have been filed with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the Marshall County Attorney’s Office, the Polk County Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office. Findings will also be shared with federal officials, as IVH salaries are included in a cost allocation process.
The report has recommendations to strengthen the IVH’s internal controls. These include, “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.”
Oujiri was appointed as commandant by former Gov. Terry Branstad in 2017 and was confirmed by the Iowa Senate in 2018. After his departure from the Iowa Veterans Home, Division Administrator Penny Cutler-Bermudez served as acting commandant.
On Tuesday, Reynolds named Major Matthew Peterson as the new IVH commandant.
Contact Trevor Babcock at 641-753-6611 email@example.com.