Muskogee County sheriff faces state probe

Friday, June 2nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) -- Muskogee County Sheriff Cliff Sinyard's three years in office will be the focus of an investigative audit
scheduled to begin Monday, State Auditor and Inspector Clifton Scott said Friday.

Scott decided to audit Sinyard's office after learning this week that Sinyard had placed six people on his May payroll without having them complete the required paperwork.

The employees were not bonded but were "tending the jail without any authority," placing the county at risk of liability, Scott said.

"Anything could have happened and wound up costing Muskogee County tons and tons of money," he said.

Auditors will be examining records over the past three years, Scott said.

Sinyard, who has projected a budget shortfall this month, said he welcomes the audit and the chance to correct any mistakes. He said he himself requested an audit when he took office because of concerns about the previous administration's handling of finances.

"I have no problem with them auditing me," he said Friday. "Everyone makes mistakes and I'm sure some will be found."

He blamed the failure to complete paperwork for the six employees on two supervisors who "were just jammed up with too much work" and a family death. The six employees served as jail guards, he said.

Five continue to work for the department, their paperwork now complete. The sixth was fired after just a few days on the job following his own arrest Memorial Day weekend on a complaint of hitting his wife, Sinyard said.

"I didn't know the young man," said Sinyard, who described his 84-employee department as too large for him to have hands-on oversight on the filing of paperwork.

Sinyard, who is up for re-election in November, blamed the audit on politics.

Scott confirmed that a request this week by David Meeks, a Democratic sheriff candidate, prompted a decision to start the audit Monday. But he said he also had received audit requests from county officials.

State auditors already are in Muskogee for a routine county audit. The investigative audit could take more than three weeks, Scott said.

Sinyard has told county commissioners that he can't meet his budget and has asked them to help. All county offices took a 5 percent budget cut this fiscal year because of Sinyard's
overspending last year, commissioners recently said.

Sinyard's office recently received $25,000 from county commissioners and used about $30,000 from the sheriff's patrol accounts to meet payroll.

Sinyard projects he'll still be between $30,000 and $75,000 short of meeting expenses in June, the last month of the county's fiscal year.

The sheriff said he inherited problems from the previous administration and has been cleaning up. Fluctuating jail revenues are a major problem, he said, noting that two-thirds of the jail's income comes from contracts. When the jail is full with county inmates, contract beds are not available.

He predicted Friday that auditors might find "human errors," such as mathematical mistakes in the office's books.

Any errors would not have had the intent of breaking state law, said Sinyard, despite acknowledging the same likely could be said
of some inmates in his jail.

"Certainly, I would hope they would go back and audit the previous administration, too," Sinyard said.