Audit: Sheriff’s office misused funds

Two fiscal year audit reports indicate that Barbour County Sheriff’s Office funds were used to purchase flowers, alcohol and gift cards for office staff and deputies.

The Barbour County audit reports for the 2010-2011 and the 2011-2012 fiscal years were published Friday on the West Virginia State Auditor’s website. According to the audit report, the department’s concealed weapons fund was used in the purchase of the alcohol, flowers and gift cards.

Barbour County Commission President Jedd Schola said commissioners were unaware and unsuspecting of the findings prior to the audit reports.

“This was definitely new knowledge, 100-percent new knowledge,” Schola said. “We forwarded that information to the (state) Ethics Commission.”

Schola said that any consequences related to the findings would be entirely up to the Ethics Commission. He said no other agency, including the County Commission, is involved in a process that could result in determining any type of consequence against the sheriff’s office.

“What the violation entails is totally up to the Ethics Commission,” Schola said. “We have no control or say (in the matter). What their punishment is, is totally up to them.”

Schola said a copy of the documents sent by the County Commission to the Ethics Commission also was provided to Sheriff John Hawkins.

“We are giving him a chance to ask the Ethics Commission himself about those findings,” Schola said. “If he does not take it upon himself to act accordingly, then we as a Commission will contact the Ethics Commission again for the findings or an investigation.”

According to the West Virginia ethics guidelines that were cited in the audit report, public funds for events conducted to recognize employees do not violate the Ethics Act unless it is in excess of $25 annually per employee.

That money can purchase light refreshments, meals or tokens of appreciation as part of any activities to recognize employees and promote morale. Money in excess of that amount and up to $100 should be approved by the County Commission, according to the code. Because the County Commission was not aware of this use of the Sheriff Department’s expenses, it did not authorize the expenses found through the audit.

“If he (Hawkins) doesn’t take it upon himself to resolve the issue, then we will,” Schola said.

Hawkins repeatedly declined to comment on the audit findings when contacted Friday.

Those expenses were not the only findings on the audit, which also states that three employees were issued payments from the Concealed Weapons and Sheriff’s Reserve funds that were not reported on W-2 tax forms or 1099 miscellaneous income forms.

The audit states that a policy has been implemented that an employee’s payment must be done through the proper payroll procedures, and that no advancements to employees will be allowed any longer.

Schola said that the employees were hired to remove a trailer and belongings from a property where a man was living after the landowner passed away. Schola said there was no lease agreement, and those who inherited the property wanted the individual to be removed. He said it was also done on the orders of the Barbour County Magistrate Court.

The latest audit report also found that the Barbour County Commission paid for items, some unauthorized and others without supporting documentation, that were purchased using West Virginia Purchasing Cards. Schola said that each office is expected to turn in its monthly statements with itemized receipts, and that some of those receipts were not itemized.

Other findings noted in one or both of the audit reports include untimely payments and deposits, an insufficient segregation of duties among employees, the failure to include compensated absences on financial documents and the payment of Barbour County Prosecuting Attorney expenses from the investigation fund without the county clerk’s signature.

The audit findings are the latest in a string of controversies surrounding Hawkins and his office. The embattled sheriff is also facing two civil lawsuits – one in federal court and another in county court – both of which were filed in July. Brittany Mae Keene, 19, of Moatsville, sued Hawkins in U.S. District Court July 18, claiming he sexually assaulted her and then threatened to kill her if she told anyone. The 15-count complaint also alleges Hawkins sexually assaulted five other unnamed women.

Then, on July 25, the sheriff was sued by the private investigator in Keene’s case, Franklin D. Streets Jr., who accused Hawkins of libel and defamation in a two-count complaint filed in Barbour County Circuit Court.