Sheriff’s office travel includes posh resort, paid trips for reserves

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While jail operations ran deficits, Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz and his employees spent more than $500,000 during the past three years on travel and training — much of it from jail funds — ordering cheesecake and ice cream via room service, paying $36 daily valet parking fees and billing taxpayers $500 per night for a resort stay with golf and afternoon tea, an investigation by The Frontier shows.

The Frontier reviewed travel claims by Glanz’s office since 2009 and found numerous questionable expenses and a few potential violations of the county’s travel policy, including Glanz’s trip to a lavish resort with his former undersheriff, Tim Albin.

Among the beneficiaries of the travel largesse was Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, Glanz’s longtime friend, who became a wealthy benefactor to TCSO.

Bates awaits trial on charges of second-degree manslaughter for shooting an unarmed man during a botched undercover operation in April.

While supervisors at the sheriff’s office were raising questions about special treatment for Bates over the years, the county paid $1,126 to send him to the National Sheriffs’ Association conference in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in June 2009.

Other taxpayer-funded trips to conferences would follow, despite an internal affairs report in August 2009 that found Bates received special treatment and failed to get proper training to serve as an advanced reserve deputy. Supervisors who expressed concerns about his lack of training were either threatened or transferred, The Frontier previously reported.

In all, the Sheriff’s Office paid more than $4,000 for Bates to travel to California, Washington D.C. and Florida for National Sheriff’s Association conferences in 2009 and 2010. Glanz has been a board member of the association for many years and Bates, a fishing buddy, was his campaign manager in 2012.

Despite his status as a volunteer deputy and a wealthy insurance company owner, Bates claimed the county’s maximum per diem for his meals on each trip.

Travel for the Sheriff’s Office is booked through Total Travel of Tulsa, which receives a $35 fee on each booking. Glanz’s office has contracted with the company at least since 2001.

Glanz’s office has repeatedly claimed that Total Travel of Tulsa is approved to bid on state government business but the state does not list the company as an approved state bidder.

Records show Total Travel’s corporate status has been suspended since May 4 by the Oklahoma Tax Commission for failure to abide by state tax law. A spokeswoman for the commission said she is prevented by law from discussing reasons for the suspension.

County officials were unaware of the company’s suspension by the state until informed by The Frontier. Rob Allison, listed as registered agent for the company, said he was also unaware and would check into the matter.

Glanz’s office declined repeated requests for an interview about the use of jail funds for travel.

Commissioners have ‘no jurisdiction’

Scrutiny of the sheriff’s spending has increased as jail operating deficits have grown. The county budget board voted recently to loan the sheriff $1 million for jail operations because the jail fund was empty before the new fiscal year started July 1.

Between 2006 — when Glanz took over operating the jail from a private vendor — and 2014, the county’s annual cost to operate the jail increased more than 50 percent, records show.

Meanwhile, the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority, which oversees jail funds, reported budget deficits of about $10 million in 2014 and 2015. An $8 million deficit is projected for next fiscal year.

While the Sheriff’s Office ran deficits in its jail operations, it spent an increasing amount of money from the jail fund for employee travel. Glanz’s office claims most of the travel costs are due to extraditions, but dozens of purchase orders reviewed by The Frontier show most of the money is spent by administrators attending conferences.

The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office spent about $75,000 on travel in 2013 while the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spent $170,000, records show. The disparity continued in 2014, when Oklahoma County spent about $86,000 and Tulsa County spent more than $210,000.

So far this fiscal year, the Sheriff’s Office has spent about $160,000 on travel and training. About 90 percent of the money spent on travel and training by the Sheriff’s Office during the past three years was paid out of jail accounts, The Frontier’s review shows.

Any shortfall in jail operations must be made up by the county with cuts in other areas or new sources of revenue.

County Commissioner Karen Keith said recent changes in the county’s budgeting process should ensure jail funds are spent strictly for jail operations.

Keith said county commissioners will keep a closer eye on Glanz’s spending going forward, but she noted he is an elected official ultimately accountable to the voters. County commissioners approve each expenditure of the Sheriff’s Office on a long list of weekly claims, but they see only basic details of hundreds of transactions countywide.

“By statute you kind of give the money to the sheriff and allow him to do his job — but I think given the impact it’s going to have on our general fund, we will be paying attention,” Keith said.

Commissioner Ron Peters said county officials “are all eight separately elected” decision makers.

“There’s really no jurisdiction over what the Sheriff’s Office does. At the end of the day if the jail is not run efficiently, the county has to come up with the money.”

Commissioner John Smaligo said Glanz essentially submits a bid each year to run the jail when he develops an annual budget. All eight elected county officials sit on a combined budget board, which reviews and approves the budgets for all county divisions.

“It’s everybody’s role I think to monitor things as best you can, but it is ultimately the responsibility of that elected official to make those decisions for their office,” Smaligo said.

Smaligo said scrutiny of the sheriff’s spending appears to be motivated by the city of Tulsa’s current contract dispute with the county over paying for jail operations. Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett and two other mayors on the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority recently signed a 41-page letter criticizing the sheriff’s spending of jail funds and asking for an investigation.

“(Bartlett’s) first three years on the authority he showed up for less than one-third of the meetings,” Smaligo said. “Now he begins to care about how money has been spent?”

The Frontier submitted a list of questions last week about specific travel expenses to Terry Simonson, the sheriff’s director of governmental affairs.

Simonson replied in an email that some of the questions contained inaccuracies, but never clarified what those were. He has not supplied answers or follow-up information as requested.

The Frontier reviewed public records including receipts, credit card statements, purchase orders and financial records supplied by the county documenting travel and training for sheriff’s employees.

Controversy has surrounded Glanz’s office since April 2, when Bates fatally shot an unarmed man, Eric Harris, during an undercover gun sting. The 73-year-old has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and has waived his preliminary hearing. Bates has said he mixed up his Taser and his gun and didn’t mean to shoot Harris.

A wealthy insurance company owner, Bates contributed cars and surveillance equipment to the undercover unit on which he was allowed to serve.

As public criticism of the Sheriff’s Office grew in recent months, Glanz pressured Albin and Maj. Tom Huckeby to resign and Maj. Shannon Clark was fired. A fourth top official, Capt. Billy McKelvey, has been suspended.

A grassroots group of citizens recently gathered more than 6,000 signatures to impanel a grand jury to investigate issues including Glanz’s handling of Bates’ training and the sheriff’s reserve program.

Allegations of misspending and financial “smoke and mirrors” have also swirled about the county recently. The Sand Springs City Council voted last week to sue the sheriff and Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority over how jail funds are being spent, including the 1995 quarter-cent tax funding the county’s jail.

Owasso Mayor Jeri Moberly, a member of the seven-member authority that oversees jail operations, said spending by the Sheriff’s Office on travel “seems high” and a lack of transparency hinders oversight.

“We are overseeing the citizens’ tax dollars,” she said during a Criminal Justice Authority meeting last week. “If we are not asking questions, we are not doing our jobs.”

County paid $537 per night for resort

Moberly and other authority members often operate in the dark when it comes to possibly inappropriate use of jail funds. County commissioners approve dozens of claims each week from the sheriff for travel, training, professional services and other spending — but they see only a brief description listing the amount, date and vendor name of each expense.

In fact, spending claims are rarely rejected and often the funds have already been spent by the time county commissioners give their stamp of approval.

The Frontier’s review of travel spending by the Sheriff’s Office included hundreds of financial records and a selection of purchase orders since August 2012. Because costs for employees’ trips are spread out among purchase orders, the records provide only a partial picture in each case, but still raise questions:

  • Glanz and Albin spent a combined $2,200 to travel to Mackinac Island, Mich., for the Major County Sheriffs’ Association conference Sept. 17-20, 2013. The idyllic island in Lake Huron allows no automobiles, so guests are transported there via ferry and ride in horse-drawn carriages to hotels, including the four-star Grand Hotel, which claims to have the largest porch in the world.
  • Albin’s room at the Grand Hotel cost $537 per night. The county paid the “tea for two” rate for Albin and a guest, which included breakfast, a five-course dinner, unlimited golf and “daily afternoon tea in the parlor.” The county’s travel policy states family members may accompany employees on trips but expenses will be paid for the employee only. Records of the trip do not show any reimbursement by Albin for the additional cost of his guest.
  • Glanz’s travel form for the conference states he drove a county car and his trip lasted eight days. The county’s travel policy states employees may not claim lodging and other expenses occurring more than 24 hours before or after the business purpose of their trip. Glanz stayed at an Indianapolis hotel Sept. 15, two days before the conference began, and a hotel in Mackinaw City, Mich., the following night. Glanz and a guest checked into the Grand Hotel on the 17th for three nights, paying $245 per night. After leaving the conference hotel, the sheriff and his guest stayed at a hotel in Marinette, Wis., a popular fishing spot on Lake Michigan’s Green Bay. The next night, Glanz stayed at a hotel in St. Louis. Total cost of the trip: $1,197.
  • Simonson charged the county $257 for meals, baggage fees and parking to travel with a Tulsa Chamber of Commerce delegation to Pittsburgh, Pa. in 2013. (His expense form states “hotel and travel paid for by hosting agency.”) It is unclear why he billed the county for any expenses or why jail funds paid the tab, since the trip focused on municipal issues, including Pittsburgh’s river development and downtown revitalization.
  • The county also paid to fly Simonson, Albin and Tulsa County reserve deputy Reuben Davis to Washington, D.C., in January this year, where Simonson was among attorneys sworn in to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. Simonson was nominated by Glanz — via the sheriff’s role as a board member of the National Sheriffs’ Association — to practice law before the Supreme Court. Records state the trip’s purpose was the National Sheriff’s Association conference, held in D.C that week, but do not explain why expenses for Davis, a volunteer reserve deputy, were paid by the county. Davis’ former law firm, McAfee & Taft, was paid more than $350,000 the past three years to defend the sheriff in civil rights lawsuits.
  • Davis wasn’t the only reserve deputy to travel on the county’s dime. Bates charged the county more than $4,600 for his expenses to travel to conferences from June 2009 through July 2011. Bates attended the 2009 National Sheriffs’ Association conference in Fort Lauderdale ($1,126) and 2010 conference in Washington, D.C., ($1,590) less than a year later. Records show “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Bates” stayed in the $300-per-night J.W. Marriott and charged the maximum allowed per day for meals. One month later, in March 2010, Bates charged the county for the maximum per diem during “clandestine lab” training in St. Paul, Minn. Bates was also reimbursed $1,149 to attend the National Sheriffs’ Association in Anaheim, Calif., again charging the maximum per diem rate. Bates was careful to mark out drinks purchased in the hotel bar and subtract them from his bill.
  • The county paid more than $1,200 for an employee to travel to Orlando, Fla., in July 2013. She paid $220 to rent a car and more than $120 for valet parking. The employee ordered room service three times, paying $22 for cheesecake and a pint of ice cream to be delivered to her room.
  • Chief Deputy Michelle Robinette was among several administrators who took an eight-day trip to the Gaylord National Resort on Baltimore’s waterfront in 2013. Her charges included three room service meals — $25 for a slice of cheesecake and a Pepsi — and a $73 steak dinner at Bond 45 Prime Steak and Seafood restaurant.

Extraditions or conferences?

Though sheriff’s officials have said much of the travel costs are due to inmate extraditions, dozens of purchase orders approved over the past three years show many trips by employees to attend conferences.

The county paid $4,500 for air travel in one month in 2012 to fly Glanz and seven of his employees to various locales. Most of the money funded a trip to a conference in Jacksonville, Fla., for Glanz and three employees. The tickets were $770 each, which included a $35 service charge per ticket.

Scant documentation exists for trips labeled extraditions. Only one of dozens of inmate meal and hotel receipts examined by The Frontier contained an inmate’s name. The rest simply state “inmate meal.”

In an audit of jail-related funds by BKD LLP in March, auditors randomly selected 15 travel expenses from an account used to pay for court guards. Auditors found three expenses totaling $1,600 that “did not appear to be consistent with the remaining funds activity of travel for extraditions.”

In one case, a married couple who are both deputies claimed expenses for inmate meals during a trip that began in Flagstaff, Arizona on July 24, 2013, and continued through Las Vegas, Albuquerque and Texas. It is unclear whether an inmate accompanied the deputies on the whole trip and why the deputies visited several cities before returning to Tulsa.

Keith said she was not familiar with details of the sheriff’s travel records, but added: “I think we’re just going to have so much more clarity going forward and accountability.

“I’m excited about that as a taxpayer. And you know not that there’s been anything egregious in the past, but I just think it’s going to be much more transparent … and of course since our general fund is impacted, we’re going to be, I think, all eyes on deck.”

Ziva@readfrontier.com
918-520-0406

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Ziva Branstetter

Editor in Chief / Staff Writer

Ziva maintains she was always too nosy to be anything other than a reporter. Though she's on a new adventure with The Frontier, she spent more than 25 years in the newspaper business, making politicians nervous and making sure readers got the truth. Contact: ziva@readfrontier.com or 918-520-0406.
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