Audit finds misuse of funds in Muskogee County sheriff's office

Thursday, August 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

State auditors found evidence of misspending by Muskogee County Sheriff Cliff Sinyard's office and a contract made in violation of state law, a report released Thursday shows. To read the entire report (a zipped, Microsoft Word file), click here.

The audit cites numerous other problems, including inappropriate transfers to cover payroll Sinyard couldn't meet and oversight weaknesses that amounted to claims of lost inmate property and excess employee overtime.

Auditors forwarded their findings to the U.S. Justice Department, state Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Muskogee County District Attorney John David Luton.

"Basically it's in his hands," Dana Webb, audit manager for the Tulsa district, said of Luton, whose office said he was not available for comment Thursday.

Attempts to reach Sinyard for comment were not immediately successful. He previously has said no laws were intentionally broken.

Auditors found that $25,121 in federal Community Oriented Policing Service grants were used to pay 16 employees. The grant authorized payments to only six full-time officers and one part-time officer. In addition, nine of the 16 were existing employees instead of new employees as required by the grant, auditors said.

The sheriff told auditors that non-grant employees were paid from grant funds in April because county commissioners had seized control of the sheriff's cash accounts.

The audit, which covered July 1, 1997, through July 13, 2000, also found that a contract for a telephone system was not ratified by county commissioners as required. Competitive bids also were not solicited, auditors found.

"Neglecting to present contracts to the Board of County Commissioners and follow the bid requirements are violations of state statutes," the audit said. The audit noted that anyone convicted of violating those provisions would have to forfeit their office.

The sheriff argued in his response that telephone service is not governed by the statute and that the auditors' findings were wrong.

Among the audit's other findings:

* The transfer by county commissioners of $37,129 to cover the sheriff's June payroll appears to violate state statute barring salary commitments beyond provided funding.

* Fourteen expenditures totaling $4,656 from the Sheriff's Commissary Account were not allowable, including reimbursements for lost inmate property, T-shirts for jail employees and rebuilding the transmission for sheriff's vehicles.

* Internal control weaknesses amounted to numerous instances of missing or stolen inmate money and property for which the county has had to pay. During Sinyard's tenure, 16 claims for lost money, property or commissary have been verified and totaled $7,244. About 10 claims are pending.

* Lack of adequate supervisory review of time sheets enabled employees to accrue excessive compensatory time that was not due them. Auditors planned to refer the matter to appropriate authorities

Auditors also noted that the sheriff met a large portion of the payroll out of cash funds, which were not appropriated and not budgeted. It appeared salaries "are paid from whatever funds have money in them," the audit said.

Sinyard has been fighting with other county officials over the handling of the department's budget for much of this year.

The sheriff overspent his $500,000 general fund budget early in the year and repeatedly asked county commissioners for more money, including part of the county's $179,000 carryover fund.

Sinyard told auditors that the office is underfunded and needs additional money to maintain public safety. He said deputies sometimes work voluntarily to meet with state mandated services, resulting in personnel abuses.

"If we expend funds we do not have, we break the law," he said. "If we don't comply with the mandates, we break the law. As long as I am a citizen of Oklahoma I will carry a torch to find a solution to this abuse."