PLATTSBURG, Mo. -- Cruises, online shopping and paying off personal credit cards. Those are just some of the ways nearly $300,000 worth of stolen public money was spent, according to a state audit released Wednesday.
The woman responsible was a local road district's own treasurer.
"She admitted to stealing," Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway said.
She was referring to Ava Langner, the former secretary and treasurer of the Plattsburg Special Road District.
Galloway said Langner admitted to taking the money after the Auditor's office launched an investigation in response to a whistle blower's complaint.
"That money went to her instead of to the roads in Clinton County," said Galloway.
The audit showed that, from April 2011 to October 2018, at least $286,615 was stolen from the special road district.
More than half the money went to a company owned by Langner. Another $125,000 was used to pay off Langner's personal credit cards.
Some of the money went to two other Langner-owned businesses, including a coffee shop in Lathrop, which now appears to be closed. Langner also spent about $14,000 on fun in the sun -- including a carnival cruise and trips to Branson.
The audit showed that taxpayer money started going missing the first year Langner was hired by the road district.
It started with small amounts. In 2011, the audit found $1,714 was stolen.
Each year the amount of missing money grew. By 2016, $64,496 was missing. In 2017, the year before Langner was fired, $124,910 was taken. That's about one third of the entire budget for this special tax district in rural Clinton County where many of the roads are gravel.
"That's a lot of road repair money," a man, who had stopped in Plattsburg to visit his son, said. "That's ridiculous."
One woman lamented over how badly the money was needed to repair and improve many county roads.
"A lot of roads don't have shoulders," she said.
Galloway said the Plattsburg Special Road District had no checks and balances over its books and bank account. Often, board members would sign blank checks, letting Langner fill them out later.
Langner later tried to cover her tracks by falsifying documents and minutes from board meetings. The board has since made numerous changes to its operations, but it's unclear whether any of the stolen money will be recovered.
The Special Road District's bank account was almost emptied. Prior to Langner's employment, it had a balance of $100,000. Now, it has about $7,000, Galloway said.
The FBI and the Missouri Highway Patrol are investigating the case. Criminal charges are likely.