Laura Seitz, Deseret News
FILE: An employee of the Department of Environmental Quality's Division of Water Quality for the State of Utah handles a filter covered in Chlorophyll-a from a water sample collected in Farmington Bay on Friday, July 29, 2016. A former Utah Department of Environmental Quality employee falsified more than $20,000 in travel expenses over 10 years and could face criminal charges, a new state audit shows.

SALT LAKE CITY — A former Utah Division of Water Quality employee falsified more than $20,000 in travel expenses over 10 years and could face criminal charges, a new state audit shows.

The state auditor's office also found that the worker, who was not identified in the report, received $124,049 in salary during the purported travel periods. Auditors recommended the Department of Environmental Quality try to recover the money and refer the case for criminal investigation and prosecution.

The Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees the water quality division, discovered irregularities in hotel invoices on the employee's travel reimbursement requests last fall. The employee quit after being questioned by the agency. The department conducted an internal investigation and notified the state auditor.

Auditors found that the worker claimed reimbursement for 286 hotel stays from July 2006 through October 2016.

Of 236 hotels that responded to the auditor's request to confirm the travel dates and costs, 118 had no record of a stay, nine partially matched the reimbursement requests and only six had records that fully matched, according to the audit.

Another 103 hotels could not confirm a stay due to a lack of records.

Auditors concluded that the employee "either fabricated or altered hotel invoices submitted for reimbursement and that much of the travel was either contrived or was personal in nature." The amount totaled $20,404.

The audit also showed:

• The purpose for nine trips was cited as "inspection," but the department had no record of an inspection occurring during the travel period.

• The employee’s state-issued computer showed cash advances on his personal credit card in Mesquite, Nevada, during the time for which he requested reimbursement for stays in Tropic and Panguitch.

• The employee stayed in a Wasatch Front hotel during the same time he requested reimbursement for a stay in Blanding.

• Many of the hotel invoices had too many or not enough digits in the credit card field, errors in dates, inconsistencies with the employee ID, duplicated account numbers and distorted hotel logos.