Friday, April 14, 2006

Lesbian Sheriff Accused of Plundering Public Funds

(Link) One of only two openly lesbian sheriffs in the US, Vermont's Sheila Prue has apparently found a fresh, new source for financing those family vacations, pet supplies and banjo purchases: tax dollars!

1 comment:

LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
From Associated Press

Windham County Sheriff Sheila Prue used public money to pay for items ranging from a banjo and pet supplies to family trips and home renovation supplies, the state auditor said Tuesday.

Auditor of Accounts Randy Brock said he had referred the matter to the attorney general’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution.

"The state of financial record keeping at the department is such that we do not have confidence that we have identified every improper expenditure," Brock said.

Attorney General William Sorrell said his office would begin a criminal investigation into Prue’s conduct as sheriff as well as look for ways to ensure the office was run correctly for the remainder of Prue’s term, which expires in January.

"Some very serious questions were raised by the auditor’s report and we’ll take them seriously," Sorrell said.

Brock said his office had identified $61,776 in "unsupported or personal transactions" by the sheriff. He said she had repaid $6,646, more than 90 percent of it after auditors began asking questions.

He also said hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal grant money was not properly accounted for and that the sheriff’s department’s finances had deteriorated to the brink of insolvency.

"For the past several months, the department’s cash position has been precarious, and in some weeks it has only been able to make its payroll by deferring payments due to its vendors," the auditor said.

A message left at Prue’s office shortly after Brock’s Tuesday morning news conference was not immediately returned. Prue, who was elected in 2002, is one of two female sheriffs in the state and is one of two openly lesbian sheriffs nationally, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

A call to her lawyer, Bettina Buehler of Brattleboro, also was not immediately returned. But Buehler told WCAX-TV that the report was a political ploy by Brock. She said it represented gender discrimination and was an attack on Prue’s sexual orientation.

"Given the seriousness of the situation, I urge Sheriff Prue to step aside from involvement in the department’s day-to-day financial affairs until the issues we have raised are properly resolved," Brock said.

Among the improper expenses Brock said his office found were:

* Airfares and meals for the sheriff’s domestic partner and child to accompany her to training courses. On one such trip, three extra days of expenses were added when the three traveled "200 miles in the wrong direction" apparently on personal business, the auditor said.

* Payment of unauthorized extra compensation and fringe benefits for the sheriff. In one instance, Brock said Prue is covered under a state employee health insurance plan and was billing co-payments under that plan to her own department.

* Payments of more than $4,600 for cell phones for Prue’s domestic partner and child.

* Purchases with department money of groceries, pet supplies, clothing, exercise equipment, household goods, a banjo and "other items for the apparent personal use of the sheriff and her family members."

* Air travel, rental cars, hotel rooms and meals in Florida, Oregon, and South Carolina for Prue and her family "on trips that were apparently personal in nature or that lacked substantiation of a business purpose."

Brock said he began the investigation last August after his office received an anonymous letter detailing problems in the Windham County Sheriff’s Department. He said other whistleblowers, including department employees, soon stepped forward.

The auditor said he was "grateful to some of the men and women in the sheriff’s department who came forward at great risk to themselves and their careers."

He said he could find no evidence to support an allegation by some of his sources that Prue had had deputies work on her house renovations on department time. Rather, they did so in their off hours, he said. One tried to bill the sheriff more than $1,800 for his work, but hasn’t been paid, the auditor added.