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University of Montana

The University of Montana campus.

A former University of Montana employee has agreed to repay nearly $6,200 worth of travel expenses that a state audit deemed wasteful.

Earlier this week, a Montana Legislative Audit Division report found that a former UM program director had “made questionable charges on a state procurement card,” or “pro-card.”

Deborah Butler, the Audit Division's legal counsel, identified the former employee as Holly Truitt, who directed UM’s SpectrUM Discovery Area and its Broader Impacts Group until earlier this year. Butler also provided a list of $6,181.20 in “questionable charges” that Truitt owed UM, including more than $800 to New England car rental outlets; $617 in “camp fees,” and $3,436 on use of a motorhome.

“Some pro-card charges lacked supporting documentation, and some were personal charges,” the report said. It found that Truitt’s use of the pro-card amounted to a “waste of state resources.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Truitt did not dispute the findings and said she planned to repay UM within a matter of days. “I didn’t file proper paperwork” for the charges, she said, “and I also didn’t itemize all of the expenses.”

Montana’s travel and pro-card policies require public employees to detail their expected expenditures for out-of-state travel before the trip, and to provide itemized receipts for each transaction. Truitt said that her UM research took her around the country — including to Nevada communities whose harsh desert climate and remote location necessitated a motorhome.

But recently, she said, “I developed a neurobiological disorder that made it really hard for me to track and stay organized, and just stopped filing my travel reports … and I didn’t file them for 10 months.”

Truitt, who was featured in the Missoulian's "20 under 40" list of local leaders in 2014, left UM in July to start her own consulting firm. She intends to repay UM, and just needed to go to the bank to get a cashier’s check for the amount. “We’ll get right on it," she said.

Auditors initially found that, in addition to the $6,181, Truitt also owed reimbursement for $924 in airfare on a trip to New York City and Maine, and $13.13 for a tax paid to the city of Amsterdam on a separate trip. Those were subsequently found to be above-board, and UM will cover them.

In an emailed statement, UM spokesperson Paula Short wrote, “University employees are required to review detailed purchasing guidelines prior to being issued a procurement card. We also have a website dedicated to guidance for procard holders.”

“We take responsible management of all university funds very seriously and expect employees to abide by all rules, policies and procedures when using their procard. In this case, our internal controls identified charges that required reimbursement.”

Separately, the Legislative Audit Division substantiated allegations that a University of Montana-Helena College employee had misused a pro-card. “We found the agency was aware of actual or suspected theft but did not immediately notify either the legislative auditor or the attorney general,” as state law requires, the report stated.

The audit division referred the matter to the Montana Attorney General’s office, which in turn gave it to the Helena Police Department. Neither of the latter two agencies responded to inquiries from the Missoulian. Butler, the division's legal counsel, declined to share further information, as it pertains to a criminal investigation.

Lee Montana Capitol Bureau reporter Holly Michels contributed reporting to this story.

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