MASON CITY — Cerro Gordo County and county Treasurer Patricia Wright are being sued by a former employee who was fired earlier this year.
Natasha Lewerke was fired in January after a state audit showed a shortfall of nearly $284,000 in taxes that should have been collected. Wright said at the time the audit and subsequent investigation dealt with money the county should have received, and did not involve misuse of funds coming in and out of the treasurer’s office.
Wright said she requested the investigation when she suspected vehicle registrations and title transactions were not being properly processed in her office.
Lewerke, a deputy treasurer, was placed on paid administrative leave July 22, 2015, and was terminated Jan. 4, 2016. She supervised five office staff, processed motor vehicle transactions and oversaw the work of staff work in processing the transactions.
Lewerke is suing Wright in both her personal and professional capacities, claiming illegal retaliation and termination.
The state audit report said “certain required fees” were not collected for title and registration transactions “for a local dealership.”
The report said the state Department of Transportation investigated specific allegations related to the transactions between a dealer and another company which upfitted the vehicles prior to their final sale to the end user.
The dealership only paid the first-time registration fee and use tax on five of 157 vehicles purchased, resulting in a shortfall of $283,867.50 in first-time registration fees and use tax, according to the audit. The dealership was not named.
In her suit, Lewerke claims two of Treasurer Wright’s personal friends came to the treasurer’s office to transfer title to a large, enclosed, double-axle trailer they claimed to have purchased for $1,000.
Lewerke thought the purchase price seemed too low and contacted an Iowa DOT investigator who agreed, and asked her to provide him with copies of the paperwork.
According to the suit, when Lewerke reported the situation to Wright, Wright told Lewerke, “I’m so disappointed in you” and “that was none of your business.”
You have free articles remaining.
Lewerke alleges the next day, Wright told her the people being investigated “are friends of mine” and Lewerke acted outside the scope of her duties by contacting the DOT.
On May 21, 2015, Human Resources Director Tom Drzycimski suspended Lewerke for one day, primarily because of her contact with the DOT investigator.
In a meeting with Drzycimski and Wright July 11, Lewerke was placed on administrative leave, accused of “vehicle title irregularity,” and banned from the courthouse for the duration of the leave.
Lewerke claims she did not hear from the county until October when she was contacted by Drzycimski to come to the courthouse to meet with a representative of the state auditor’s office.
A week later, Lewerke met with Drzycimski who told her he had examined 11,000 of her emails from January through July of 2015 and called them “disgusting.” The lawsuit did not describe what “disgusting” meant.
On Dec. 15, Lewerke was asked to resign and she refused. On Jan. 4, 2016, she was fired.
Lewerke’s suit claims the state auditor’s report found Wright failed to properly process title transactions, failed to follow DOT procedures and to collect certain fees and failed to pay the state its share of fees.
The suit accuses Wright and the county of taking retaliatory actions against Lewerke for her disclosing information that showed evidence of possible law violations and mismanagement and abuse of authority.
The suit further claims the county’s actions violate the state policy requiring employees to report potential fraudulent practices.
Lewerke is seeking a jury trial. She is represented by Paige Fiedler of the Fiedler & Timmer law firm of Johnston.
Drzycimski said the lawsuit was a personnel matter and declined comment Monday.