Cumberland Times-News

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February 27, 2013

Auditor finds issues in Mineral sheriff’s office account

Action may be in violation of ethics code

KEYSER, W.Va. — A state auditor told the Mineral County Commission Wednesday that expenditures in a sheriff’s office account ad-ministered by former Sheriff Craig Fraley may have been misused and in violation of West Virginia Ethics Commission guidelines.

Sally Martin said the audit found that the sheriff’s office concealed weapons fund expenditures were utilized for improper purchases and that there were expenditures without proper documentation. Martin said the sheriff’s office paid for its catered Christmas party with expenditures from the account and also made donations to other organizations, which is a violation of ethics guidelines.

“There is no way you can say that (straight donations) is a necessary law enforcement expenditure,” said Martin.

Martin provided the commission with a copy of all the receipts that were in violation of the ethics guidelines and were for improper purposes.

“A lot of the ones without proper documentation where for per diem, where they were paying people when they went to training and stuff like that,” said Martin. “There was nothing in there at all for documentation.”

 There weren’t travel sheets or dates for the per diems, according to Martin. The findings are from 2012, prior to when Jeremy Taylor assumed the sheriff’s post. Taylor defeated Fraley in the November general election.

The Ethics Commission issued an opinion stating that food and flower purchases for funerals should not be paid out of the concealed weapons fund, according to Martin.  

Commission President Janice LaRue questioned why it would be paid out of concealed weapons (fund) and what the commission should do about the violations.  

“I have spoken with Jeremy (Taylor) about what can and cannot be paid out of concealed weapons and I’ve given him ethics guidelines,” said Martin. “You just need to be aware of what can be paid out of there and comply with it.”

The draft audit found issues with conservator fees and conservator accounts. About $1,400 in conservator fees went directly to Fraley, according to Martin.

“The fees that were charged for administering the conservator account were not properly deposited into the general fund. They were paid to the (former) sheriff personally,” said Martin. “The sheriff’s salary is set by code and he cannot take any pay, commissions or anything over that code. The recommendation is to have that repaid.”

The conservator fee findings were in response to a letter to the auditor’s office from County Coordinator Mike Bland.  

“It happened in the last fiscal year but I didn’t catch it,” said Martin.

The conservator account requires that periodic accounting be prepared and it has not been done per code, according to Martin. The commission has been waiting for two years for a list of conservator accounts from the sheriff’s office, according to LaRue.

If the commissioners wanted to take the issue any further they could take the copy of the receipts to Prosecuting Attorney Jay Courrier, according to Martin. The commission plans to forward the information to Courrier.

“Our only recommendation is to stop doing it, we can’t say anything beyond that,” said Martin.

Commissioner Jerry Whisner questioned if there was an actual dollar amount. Martin indicated she did not have a dollar amount.

“We probably need to know how much money you are talking about,” said LaRue.

Taylor indicated that all the violations were ceased as of Jan. 1 and that there are provisions in place for proper documentation of expenditures.

The concealed weapons fund does not require commission approval for expenditure, according to Bland.

Also during the meeting, Commissioner Dr. Richard Lechliter said the commission hoped to have Max White and Terry Malone’s appointments on the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority filled by the next authority meeting on March 28. White, chairman of the authority, and Malone resigned last week after a heated executive session over possibly dangerous fuel contamination at the airport.

“In case there were any concerns, the fuel was rechecked immediately at the airport by an independent party,” said Lechliter, who said the fuel was “in good shape.”

Elaine Blaisdell can be reached at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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