Call it an October surprise for Oklahoma County voters.
Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones released a 30-page audit of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office today, exactly three weeks before voters will choose between beleaguered incumbent John Whetsel and challenger Mike Christian.
Requested by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in March, the audit includes multiple findings that Jones notes as either unlawful conduct or casual financial mishandling, though all reports include a disclaimer that the auditor has no standing to determine guilt, innocence, liability or culpability.
“As discussed in other areas of this report, all funds were not expended in a lawful manner,” Jones’ audit notes on page 22. “Prior year expenses were paid with current year funds, expenses were not timely encumbered, contract amounts were paid in question, and prior year obligations remained unpaid.”
Jones highlights 33 new sheriff’s department vehicles bought in 2013 and 2014 — for a total cost of $893,638 — and states that “the purchases were made during a time that other obligations of the Sheriff’s office were not being met.”
Those other obligations largely relate to money owed to Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., which resulted in a suit against the county. A district court issued a judgment for Armor, which the county is currently appealing, the audit states.
The audit also notes that Whetsel donated a personal vehicle to the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department after a $28,000 donation was made to Whetsel’s spouse’s trust. From the audit:
The vehicle in question, a 2008 Dodge Charger, was originally purchased by Sheriff Whetsel in the name of the ‘Cynthia A Whetsel Trust’ on October 31, 2007, for $32,341.59.
The official records from the Oklahoma Tax Commission documenting the 2011 sale of the vehicle reflect that the vehicle was sold directly to the County by Sheriff Whetsel. The purchaser of record was the “Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office”, and the seller of record was the “Cynthia A Whetsel Trust”. No excise tax was paid in this transaction.
A County ‘Receiving/Inventory Report’ reflects the same vehicle as “Donated” to the County on March 30, 2011, from Bright Smile Dentistry PC owned by a Reserve Deputy, at a value of $28,000. This donation was not officially accepted by the Board of County Commissioners.
Per Sheriff Whetsel, the vehicle was purchased by Bright Smile and was then donated to the County. Whetsel provided a copy of the payment for the vehicle, a cashier’s check dated December 16, 2010, in the amount of $28,000 to the ‘Cynthia Whetsel Trust’. The check was deposited into the Cynthia A Whetsel Trust on December 20, 2010.
The Sheriff’s Office purchased 31 new Dodge Chargers 16 at an average cost of $25,342. Sheriff Whetsel received payment of $28,000 for a three-year old vehicle with 83,739 miles.
Cynthia A. Whetsel has been Whetsel’s wife since 1994. A former chief of police in Choctaw, Whetsel was first elected Oklahoma County sheriff in 1996.
Okla. County Sheriff debate: ‘Who the hell does he think he is? Wyatt Earp?’ by William W. Savage III
Reached by phone, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department public information officer Mark Opgrande said Whetsel will likely hold a press conference “Thursday or Friday” to address the audit, which Opgrande said was made available to the sheriff at the same time it was made public today.
“He needs to go through it with his staff,” Opgrande said. “We don’t want to do a response on the phone. We want to do a response in front of everybody.”
Opgrande said he, Whetsel and attorney Danny Honeycutt are currently in San Diego attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. He said Whetsel is a past president and was busy presenting traffic safety awards at a banquet.