Sheriff’s office finds more unreported funds

Published 10:12 am Thursday, January 22, 2015

Just two months after a state auditor’s report questioned several thousand dollars in expenditures made by former Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes, another questionable account from his administration has been found.
“It was a calendar fund,” Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said. The account contained between $6,000 and $7,000 that had not been properly received by the county Trustee’s office, he said.
Lunceford said he and his staff found the undocumented funds during the normal course of conducting business of the Sheriff’s Office.
“The calendar company contacted us to see if we would be using the same picture for the calendar,” Lunceford said. “We called them and had a conversation about the process for the calendar.”
During that conversation, Lunceford said he learned about the funds obtained through the calendar and that those funds had not been turned over to the Trustee’s Office as is required by state law.
“It was reported to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office and the District Attorney’s office, which I am required to do by law,” Lunceford said.
After the discovery was made, Lunceford said his office has been able to recover about $3,000 of the funds from the previous administration’s calendar fund, which he said has now been turned over to Trustee’s Office for proper accounting.
“Since I’ve been elected, we’ve receipted that through the Trustee’s Office as is required,” he said. “We’ve only collected it once.”
Lunceford said he was not able to comment on any investigation that may be taking place after this most recent discovery of undocumented funds. He referred any questions on the investigation to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, which also declined to comment.
“Our office has broad authority to investigate government entities, including the Carter County Sheriff’s Office,” said John Dunn, public information officer for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office. “It is our police not to comment on any investigations.”
Dunn said any findings of an investigation would be released once the investigation is completed, but until then, no information would be released.
This is the second time since Mathes left office that accounting practices by his administration have been questioned.
In the 2013-14 audit report for Carter County released by the Comptroller’s Office, auditors questioned $76,000 in Mathes’ expenditures.
A fraud complaint was filed with the state regarding the payments made using funds disbursed by Tennessee Business Enterprises, the operator of Carter County jail commissary. Local and state officials said they did not know the payments were being made or even that the fund existed.
“Based on the TBE manager’s records, we were able to determine that between Aug. 11, 2009, and Aug. 12, 2014, the TBE manager disbursed approximately $75,847 at the discretion of Sheriff’s Department personnel,” the audit report said. “These disbursements consisted of sponsorships and donations to various churches, school organizations and civic organizations, including the Kiwanis Club, Chamber of Commerce and United Way. Disbursements were also made for expenses associated with employee functions, cable television services, K-9 expenses, ATV accessories, postal charges, flowers, training and jail-related expenses.”
The auditor’s report also singles out a specific disbursement from the funds that took place just weeks before Mathes left office.
“Additionally, one disbursement on Aug. 12, 2014, for $2,300 to a local credit union appears to be on behalf of a Sheriff’s Department employee,” the report said. “This payment is unauthorized compensation approved by the sheriff without the approval of the County Commission.”
As part of the agreement, the TBE manager had created an account for the funds donated to the Sheriff’s Department, Carter County Finance Director Ingrid Deloach told the Elizabethton Star following the release of the audit report. Whenever Mathes requested funds to make a purchase, Deloach said, the TBE manager would write a check to make the purchase.
According to the auditor’s findings, the Sheriff’s Department and TBE circumvented the county’s purchasing statutes through their contracted agreement. The report recommends that in the future, fees or donations collected by the Sheriff’s Office be remitted to the county trustee and all operating expenses then be appropriated through the county’s Finance Department.

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