Former Ayrshire clerk pleads not guilty to stealing city funds

Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Alesha Elizabeth Olson
Photo courtesy of Palo Alto County Jail

A former Ayrshire city clerk has entered a plea of not guilty after the discovery of improper city payments led to charges of theft and forgery. Alesha Elizabeth Olson, age 28, was charged with second degree theft a Class D felony and misdemeanor forgery after city officials asked Iowa's Auditor of State to examine city records in February. Olson's attorney Scott A. Johnson of Hemphill Law Firm in Spencer filed her plea with the Palo Alto County Clerk of Court July 14. His client waived her right to a speedy trial, and an Oct. 27 jury trial has been scheduled at the Palo Alto County Courthouse.

Charges against Olson were filed on June 9, shortly after state auditors concluded an investigation of the city's finances. Ayrshire officials had become suspicious of payments they discovered while filing quarterly federal tax returns, and they contacted Auditor of State Rob Sand's office to ask that a special investigation be conducted. Olson, who served as city clerk from Sept. 1, 2018, to Jan. 30, 2020, should have received 17 paychecks during her employment, according to the auditor's report, but she received a total of 30.

"Of the 13 unauthorized checks Ms. Olson issued herself, 11 were identical in amounts to authorized net payroll checks," the auditor's report said.

The other two were roughly double Olson's usual monthly paycheck.

"When Ms. Olson was directly asked if she increased the frequency of the payments she issued to herself because she had the ability to do that and could get away with it, her response was 'yeah,'" the state report said.

Olson's husband Tyle Olson had been elected mayor of Ayrshire's 140 residents in November of 2017. He won with a total of six write-in votes, beating out a scattering of other write-in candidates and unseating incumbent Jared Weller who received three votes that election. Tyle Olson's mayoral term ended Dec. 31, 2019, and the state auditor's report said city officials told investigators Olson herself resigned the following month because her husband had not been reelected.

The unauthorized payroll checks totaled $9,084.11, and the investigation turned up another $509.87 in city funds which were used for "Christmas gatherings for the city council members, the mayor and their significant others." State auditors also found a $582.10 check paid to Olson from the city which was marked as reimbursement for printer toner. No receipt was produced for the purchase, but investigators reasoned such a purchase was within the scope of Olson's duties, and they labeled the payment as unsupported, rather than improper.

Olson's forgery charges stem from an Iowa Public Employee's Retirement System (IPERS) employment verification form, which investigators believe Olson falsified. The form was dated April 1, 2020 approximately two months after Olson resigned and authorities believe Olson forged the signature of current Ayrshire City Clerk Faith Smith on the form in order to falsely claim an additional month of employment and a $125.84 IPERS payment from the city.

The state auditor's office recommended the city segregate duties within its office moving forward, as well as conduct periodic payroll record reviews and require all city disbursements be approved by the city council prior to payment unless specifically allowed by city policy.

The report said the Ayrshire City Clerk position is no longer a salaried position.

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