By ZIVA BRANSTETTER
For the past five years, state and federal auditors have repeatedly criticized the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office for lax oversight of inmate trust accounts, but those warnings prompted little change and some of the funds went missing, an investigation by The Frontier found.
State auditors also questioned the sheriff’s office for lack of oversight over federal grant funds used to finance a multi-agency drug task force, records show. Questions remain regarding a lack of documentation for nearly $200,000 in federal grant funds.
Sources say, “up to $25,000 was discovered missing from the inmate trust funds,” money held on behalf of jailed inmates in 2012. It is unclear how the Sheriff’s Office made up the shortfall or whether some inmates simply didn’t receive their money.
Instead of pressing criminal charges, the Sheriff’s Office allowed an employee to resign.
In an email to The Frontier, Meredith Baker, general counsel for the Sheriff’s Office, refused to release records related to the missing inmate trust funds.
“IA report/case files are not open records. I believe (but am not certain) there was a resignation. I will forward your request for more information to the sheriff,” Baker’s email states.
In another email, Baker confirms the Sheriff’s Office took no disciplinary action in relation to the inmate trust funds so no public record of a personnel action exists. Baker also states the trust accounts “are actually not comprised of taxpayer dollars.”
State law requires the Sheriff’s Office to maintain and oversee the accounts, as well as to provide reports related to them.
Baker did not respond to a follow-up request to provide a redacted copy of an internal affairs investigation report regarding inmate trust funds.
Sheriff Stanley Glanz did not respond to repeated requests for interviews or additional information. Terry Simonson, a spokesman for Glanz, said last week he had not read the state audits and could not comment.
The Frontier provided copies of the audits to Simonson on Thursday and again asked for more information. He still had not responded as of Monday.
Glanz’s office has been under fire since the April 2 shooting death of Eric Harris during a botched gun sting. Reserve Deputy Robert Bates, a long-time friend and political supporter of the sheriff, served on the Violent Crimes Task Force and took part in the undercover operation.
Bates said he confused his Taser with his revolver when he shot Harris, who was pinned to the ground by two other deputies. Bates has been charged with second-degree manslaughter in Harris’ death.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler has asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate the Sheriff’s Office.
Kunzweiler’s announcement came after weeks of revelations about problems in Glanz’s office, including a story by The Frontier detailing alleged abuse of black inmates and discrimination against black employees in the jail.
The county has paid more than $1 million to settle seven discrimination lawsuits filed by jail employees since 2009.
A group of citizens, We the People Oklahoma, is also gathering signatures for a petition seeking a grand jury investigation of Glanz’s office and removal of the sheriff for alleged “a willful neglect of duty.”
Glanz has refused repeated requests for interviews with The Frontier. He has told other media outlets that problems in his office occurred because his top officials failed to keep him informed.
Three top employees have stepped down or been placed on leave since Harris’ shooting: Undersheriff Tim Albin, Maj. Tom Huckeby and Maj. Shannon Clark.
Funds not safeguarded
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones said inmate trust accounts are a frequent source of financial mismanagement in Oklahoma county governments.
“It’s a real issue. A lot of times when we see that pattern, it opens up those opportunities for things to happen.”
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.
The Frontier reviewed audits of Tulsa County government since 2009 and found state auditors have been reporting concerns each year about problems with inmate trust funds at the Tulsa Jail.
In 2009, auditors made five findings related to handling of inmate trust funds, all but one designated as “repeat findings” made in earlier years.
Among the findings that year: deposits were not always made daily; receipts for inmate funds 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.
“Monies received are not being safeguarded from possible impropriety,” the 2009 audit states.
In written responses, then-Chief Deputy Albin said some of the auditors’ directives were impractical and “not an option” or simply disagreed with the findings.
However, Albin recommended several policy changes, including installing receipt printers in the booking area and reassigning duties for reconciling the trust funds. It’s unclear whether those changes were ever made.
That same year, auditors also criticized the department’s handling of contract revenue and purchase orders. The audit found a lack of supporting documentation for services the Sheriff’s Office had contracted to provide and states no receipts were being issued by the Sheriff’s Office when it received payments.
“Collections are not being deposited in a timely manner,” the audit states. “One receipt for $48,091.68 was deposited three months after receiving the check and was incorrectly deposited. A payment of $15,771.07 by the contracted entity for February 2009 could not be located by the Sheriff’s Office.”
Though the audit does not specify what the contracted services were for, a response by the Sheriff’s Office indicates one contract was to provide services to Union Public Schools.
That audit also noted that several county divisions were ordering or receiving goods and services before payment was approved. Auditors selected about 250 purchase orders to test and found that 17 had not been approved before goods and services were ordered or received.
Out of those 17 purchase orders, 15 were from the Sheriff’s Office, for more than $350,000 in goods and services, the audit states.
While the Sheriff’s Office addressed some issues raised in the 2009 audit, repeat findings about issues with the inmate trust funds continued.
State auditors made many of the same findings about lax oversight in inmate trust funds in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. In fact, fiscal year 2013 was the only year auditors did not discover financial lapses involving inmate trust accounts overseen by the Sheriff’s Office.
Though the audits do not mention missing funds, the 2012 audit notes: “Since May 2012, the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office has restructured staff assigned to the Inmate Trust Account to ensure segregation of duties.”
The audit that year noted widespread problems involving jail funds:
- Deposit slips and copies of deposit slips for the entire fiscal year 2012 were missing
- The Sheriff’s Office could not provide some of the receipt books, deposit books and inmate booking reports while others were illegible
- Bank reconciliations were not performed or verified
- Five out of 10 disbursement checks lacked supporting documentation
- Arresting officers used “any available receipt book” instead of sequentially numbered receipts
- Before May 1, 2012, one employee was responsible for all inmate account duties
Jones said the auditor’s office is not the enforcement agency when funds are misappropriated or mismanaged and expects agencies to make changes called for by audit findings.
“We’re not just writing this down because we want to write something in a report,” Jones said.
Despite pledges by the Sheriff’s Office to address the problems, the most recent audit again noted the potential for theft and non-compliance with state laws. The audit for fiscal year 2014 was provided to the county in February.
It found inmate trust checks are issued “for unauthorized expenditures.” The audit also found that records are not maintained for unclaimed funds and that the sheriff had no commissary fund.
State law requires sheriffs to file annual reports on their commissary accounts by Jan. 15 each year. The accounts are used to track spending by inmates on food, toiletries and other items sold to inmates in the jail.
A response to the audit finding states: “As soon as we are able to create this account through the Treasurer’s Office, we will deposit all proceeds from commissary into this account. At the end of each fiscal year, we will submit an annual report of activity from this commissary account to the BOCC by Jan. 15.”
It is unclear whether the commissary account has been created at the Tulsa Jail.
Spending of task force grant questioned
In addition to questions about inmate trust funds, auditors have raised questions each year about the agency’s oversight of federal grant funds that funded a high-profile task force.
The Sheriff’s Office was awarded more than $300,000 in federal grant funds in 2009 to fund the multi-jurisdiction task force. The funds paid salaries of three officers that served on the task force from Bixby, Sand Springs and Skiatook police departments.
The grant application states that the three outside officers would be placed on the task force along with a supervisor and “two highly experienced full-time deputies.” It’s unclear whether that description included Bates, who the Sheriff’s Office has said was assigned to the task force at the time.
Bates has said he worked hundreds of undercover assignments with the task force.
In a 2012 audit, the Sheriff’s Office was cited for failure to provide timesheets for task force members and failure to properly document travel costs. Spending questioned by the auditors totaled more than $137,000 in grant funds.
In 2013, auditors questioned more than $60,000 in grant spending due to purchase orders that lacked documentation.
When federal auditors question grant spending, agencies are expected to provide follow up documentation to clear up the issues. However the Sheriff’s Office has yet to do that, according to the most recent audit, fiscal year 2014.
“Correction could not be determined as this grant is no longer active,” the audit states.
Ziva Branstetter 918-520-0406