Claremore Daily Progress

June 17, 2014

2013 Audit: $4.2M in FEMA funds used for wrong purpose

Salesha Wilken
Claremore Progress

CLAREMORE — Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones issued the 2013 audit report Tuesday, citing more significant findings in Rogers County, including $4.2 million in federal funds used for unapproved projects.

Jones called the issues “very serious”, adding that Rogers County’s reports feature the largest number of issues he’s seen since taking office.

Officials failed to document millions of FEMA funds, and vendors altered invoices at the commissioner’s request, according to the report.

Commissioner Mike Helm and County Clerk Robin Anderson, who served as his secretary at the time,  worked on the FEMA project,   beginning with the flooding disaster on Keetonville Road.

Anderson and Helm requested an alternate project list from FEMA and were awarded $13.8 million.

“We will be in close consultation with Oklahoma Emergency Management and FEMA about these concerns,” Jones said.

Three audits were released this year, bringing county records current. Several items have been forwarded to the Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for enforcement, including the 2013 report.

“The citizens and elected officials need to pay close attention to the issues,” Jones said.

The audit also revealed officials overpaid invoices, showed bidding preference to vendors and did not comply with state law when accepting bids on the basis of “first available and closest to the location.”

Some findings were repeated from the previous reports, while others were new and individualized by elected officials.

The auditors reported Rogers County Treasurer Cathy Pinkerton-Baker did not comply with state law when she failed to issue tax warrants to collect $663,418.60 in uncollected personal property taxes.

Helm approved road projects with a vendor, in amounts ranging from $6,000 to $2.5 million, without ensuring funds were available. Further, these expenditures did not have proper supporting documentation, according to the report.

“One SmartScouter surveillance camera, owned by the Sheriff’s Office, could not be located,” according to the report.

Later, commissioner Dan DeLozier determined, at the auditor’s request, the camera was in the possession of commissioner Kirt Thacker.

The sheriff’s office used it concerning the commissioner’s work on private property, which was noted in the 2012 auditor’s report.

The camera became the recent topic of debate when Thacker questioned the sheriff’s investigation methods in the commissioners’ weekly meeting. Thacker has not returned the item to the sheriff.

The auditors list the missing camera as an issue of noncompliance with state statute that could result in inaccurate inventory records and misappropriation of assets.

In previous reports, they found officials utilized county equipment for personal use, conducted work on private property, solicited vendors for gifts, split purchases to avoid competitive bidding, submitted fictitious invoices, back-dated records, accepted illegal campaign contributions and failed to properly document millions in federal FEMA funds.

Several of the auditor’s findings correlate to items listed in the 2012 citizens petition for a grand jury investigation. The petition is currently under review by the Oklahoma multicounty grand jury, which is set to reconvene on Tuesday.