Choppy waters at the SEA

Choppy waters at the SEA

It was on July 23 that Mary Conturo, executive director of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County Sports and Exhibition Authority (SEA), said an internal investigation would be used “to confirm that our financial processes and internal controls performed as intended and were not compromised.”

“We think we have very good internal procedures in place,” Conturo said, adding that “we have no reason to believe” any money is missing.

That was in response to word that its controller, Sharon J. Mink, 43, of Plum, had been charged with theft, receiving stolen property and nine counts of forgery in her prior job at an insurance underwriting firm.

But that internal investigation, aided by the SEA’s regular independent auditor, apparently found a chink in those controls – a $21,000-plus chink.

The SEA, which had placed Mink on unpaid leave when informed of the charges against her, now has fired Mink after what it calls a “suspect” $21,350 wire transfer in April 2018, the Post-Gazette reports. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the matter.

Mink was hired by the SEA in February 2017, the same month that she left Research Underwriters. She was charged this past July 23 with stealing just under $230,000 from 2013 to 2017. Mink became the brokerage’s controller in 2007.

It’s alleged that she used some of the money for ocean cruises, air fare, jewelry and designer apparel.

Investigators say Mink suddenly left her last job on a smoke break.

These choppy waters raise a number public policy questions for the SEA, which, on the public’s behalf, owns PNC Park, Heinz Field, PPG Paints Arena and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

First would be the agency’s hiring process. Indeed, the Research Underwriters’ charges did not come until well into Mink’s SEA tenure. But surely questions were being raised when Mink remained in the insurance brokerage’s employ. Exactly how was Mink vetted for the SEA position? And did no one at that brokerage raise any red flags?

Second would be the SEA’s financial controls. Conturo told the P-G that Mink’s position did “not have sole signatory authority” and that it “takes more than one person to do something, whether it’s entering something into a ledger or sending out a check or creating an invoice.”

Indeed, those are solid controls. At least they should have been. How were they undermined?

Sound public policy demands full answers and solutions.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).