SUMTER CO., GA (WALB) - County leaders said an audit of the sheriff's office uncovered more improper record-keeping than they thought.
Auditors from Frazier and Deeter said more than 600 transactions from a Social Security's account are prohibited by a Georgia Gratuities Clause.
The firm also noted the purchase of a truck with incorrect funds. The county said they're also alarmed that deputies were paid in cash for off duty assignments, in uniform, and using county cars.
The commission is expected to address the audit with the sheriff at a meeting, but the sheriff says nothing has been said to him so far.
He maintained the audit was a political smear made by the commission chairman before the election. He said any improper accounting was an accident.
To read the audit report, click here.
At the June 21st meeting of the Board of Commissioners received the result of a Forensic Audit that had been undertaken after questions arose regarding the sources and uses of funds in several accounts maintained by the Sumter County Sheriff's Office.
A copy of the report was provided to the Sheriff within 24 hours of the report being presented to the Board.
That audit was performed by one of the firms who's name was given to the Board by the Director of the GBI after a meeting in his office wherein the County's concerns were outlined to the director. The firm of Frazier & Deeter, LLC, asked for legal framework in which to view their investigation. That direction was provided by the County Attorney. When consulted on the matter, local District Attorney, Plez Hardin, stated that there would be no way to determine whether something criminally actionable had occurred without the performing of an audit. Neither Director Vernon Keenan nor Plez Hardin "ordered" the forensic audit. Both advised the Board of Commissioners that there was no way to move forward without an audit.
The auditors reported what they observed in their investigation of three accounts. In the report there are sections which classify expenditures that the auditors found questionable. A sample quote from the report is: "At least $65,832.88, in 603 transactions, was disbursed for purposes that are expressly prohibited by The Georgia Gratuities Clause." There were also disbursements to off duty officers from accounts. Those funds were apparently never disclosed in a budget. The previous county audit firms did not test the uses of the funds – they simply tested the arithmetic of the accounts.
At this time, no decision has been made regarding how to best proceed in these matters. These matters are serious. The Board of Commissioners has taken the audit findings under advisement.
The law requires that funds should flow through a transparent budget process. The Board of Commissioners takes that responsibility seriously. Many hours are spent, annually, on the budget process. Violation of policies and disregard for the law will not be tolerated. Accountability and Transparency in government requirements. Whether there was criminal intent will be a matter of some agency other than the Sumter County Board of Commissioners to determine. However, if funds were mis-spent and are due back to the tax payers of this County, the Board of Commissioners has a responsibility to pursue the matter.
While the Board of Commissioners views these matters in a serious light; they do not want to make hasty decisions. The Board will proceed on the advice of the County Attorney to deliberate the next steps.
Oversight of how public funds are handled and disbursed is one of the responsibilities of the governing body of Sumter County, your Board of Commissioners. Our inquiry into these matters began in 2013. The response we first received from the Sheriff's office read in part: "This letter is to inform you, the Board of Commissioners, County Attorney Bill NeSmith, any auditors representing the County and The Citizens Bank of Americus, that as Sheriff of Sumter County, I am denying all access to any of the Sheriff's Office checking accounts…" The letter was signed by Sheriff Pete Smith. That began a long process of trying to piece together transactions in and between accounts.
Sumter County Board of Commissioners,
July 7, 2016