NORMAN, Okla. — An Oklahoma audit has found financial mismanagement within a sheriff’s office in the central part of the state, causing over-expenditure of public funds and noncompliance with state law.
The audit conducted from July 2011 to June 2016 says the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office’s shortfalls are due to “its management, operation, record keeping and accounting systems.”
Auditors said Sheriff Joe Lester requested more funding from the Cleveland County Budget Board in March, but failed to bill the Oklahoma Department of Corrections from September 2016 to March 2017 for housing state prisoners. The audit also found “deficiencies in collections of revenue and inefficient expenditures,” including overpayment of inmate medical costs and inefficient scheduling of personnel resulting in unbudgeted payments of compensatory time.
Lester sued the county later that month, saying the Board of Commissioners and Budget Board failed to fund the county jail as required by law.
Lester and Budget Board members requested the audit to help determine whether the jail was adequately funded.
“The sheriff has been the elected sheriff for the past eight years,” said Rod Cleveland, a county commissioner. “He is responsible for his office. He has continually fought with the budget board. We have continually asked for substantiation of his budget claims. It is unfortunate that it has taken the action of the state auditor to confirm our concerns.”
Michael Denton, Lester’s attorney, declined to comment on the audit findings, saying he hasn’t read or discussed it with his client.
The auditor’s office has made recommendations, but hasn’t filed criminal charges or offered legal opinions, pending the lawsuit. A trial date for the lawsuit is scheduled on Oct. 4.
“We are a reporting agency. We rely on the statutes,” said Gary Jones, state auditor. “We are not attorneys and as far as criminal activity, we would rely on the district attorney to make those determinations.”