The state auditor agreed to conduct an investigative audit of Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel and his office over allegations of financial wrongdoing. In the audit request (requested Wednesday, March 9, 2016), David Prater outlined several focus areas of concern with the department, including Sheriff John Whetsel himself, in a letter “there are ‘multiple areas of concern.'”
The DA is asking that an auditor investigate the use of funds by the sheriff and/or his department. “There is reason to believe that the Oklahoma County sheriff and/or his administrative staff have violated sections of the Oklahoma statutes and articles of the Oklahoma Constitution,” Prater wrote. “Documents of evidentiary value and proposed witness names will be disclosed to you when you are prepared to receive them.”
The problem? Auditors have been pointing out irregularities in inmate trust accounts for at least seven years with little apparent action by the county. And, as recently as May 28, 2015, the Sheriff’s Office refused to release records about the matter to The Frontier. The sheriff has had severe budget problems for the last couple years that he blames on a loss in revenue from the state Corrections Department. The county jail’s requested resources and the use of campaign contributions were questioned, as well. The sheriff told other county officials in a memo last week “there is a very real and extreme BUDGET EMERGENCY” at his office.
Prater specifically asked the auditor to investigate whether the sheriff “willfully” has refused to pay contracted expenses, whether he deposits all special revenue funds in statutorily approved accounts, whether he has spent funds in a lawful manner and whether he provided false and misleading information to a judge. Of particular interest is the inmate funds which are turned over to the sheriff’s office upon an inmate’s “getting booked” into the jail facility. There are already some very serious discrepancies and even more suspicions that the former sheriff’s personnel have committed criminal theft and conspiracy of the property of jail inmates.
State law requires that when arrestees are booked into a county jail in Oklahoma, money they are carrying must be deposited and held for their eventual release or transfer to prison. Money sent to prisoners by family members and friends is also supposed to be deposited into the inmate trust accounts. In the reports it was found that deposits were not always made daily; receipts for inmate funds were not issued in numerical order; vouchers issued to inmates after release were not issued in numerical order; inmate trust records were not reconciled and financial duties were not segregated.
State law requires the Sheriff’s Office to maintain and oversee the accounts, as well as to provide reports related to them. The request also arose because of questions about information provided to the judge who determines how much inmates are charged for their time in the Oklahoma County jail.
The daily incarceration rate is based on a calculation that begins with the total operating costs of the jail over a year’s time. The current rate is $44.51 per day. Oklahoma County District Judge Ray Elliott complained in February the total given to him for the jail’s operating costs had been inflated by including unrelated things.
Whetsel, a Democrat, is seeking re-election this year to a sixth term in office and later released a statement about the request:
“…On behalf of myself and the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, we welcome this inquiry and will cooperate completely with the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office, just as we do all year long, every year.
Nothing wrong has been done and we have absolutely nothing to hide. The Sheriff does not, nor does any individual County Officer, execute any contracts or make payments on behalf of the County. By law, contracts are executed by the Board of County Commissioners. The County Treasurer and County Clerk handle all deposits of funds and payments. Answers to financial questions are routinely provided by the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office. These internal controls are long established and work well.
The State Auditor and Inspector’s Office audits Oklahoma County Government, including the Sheriff’s Office, every year and just completed an audit for the last fiscal year.
As you are aware, this is an election year and the time when crazy political attacks occur. The reason this surprises me so much is that it is by the person who is responsible by law to represent me and the Sheriff’s Office. Yes, I have occasionally questioned the quality of the D.A.’s advice and representation recently, as have other County Officials, yet we follow that advice and the law each and every day. We always will!
I am an honest and dedicated law enforcement officer in my 48th year of service. This attack is deeply personal and reprehensible. I will continue to faithfully do my job providing law enforcement services and protecting the citizens of Oklahoma County.”
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said the audit will be started as soon as he can put an audit team together. Prater likely will turn over the results of the audit to the state attorney general’s office to determine whether charges are warranted. The process could take months.