The Indiana State Police have launched an investigation of Putnam County Sheriff Mark Frisbie to determine whether criminal wrongdoing was involved in his handling of the Sheriff's Department's finances, a State Police spokesman announced Tuesday.
Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter asked State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell Monday to investigate Frisbie after the State Board of Accounts found $4,400 in missing and misspent money linked to the sheriff in its audit of the department.
Whitesell agreed to Bookwalter's request Tuesday afternoon and will assign a detective to look into the sheriff's accounting practices, said State Police spokesman First Sgt. Dave Bursten.
The detective will not be from the Putnamville post, he added.
An investigation could take weeks or even months, if detectives run into problems, Bursten said.
The State Board of Accounts found more than a dozen "unallowable" expenses in its audit of the department's 2006 funds. These expenses included $800 for first-class airline tickets to a sheriff's conference in Orlando, Fla., for Frisbie, his wife and his daughter, a $600 limousine tour of Washington, D.C., $450 for "I support Sheriff Mark Frisbie" bracelets during election time and a $100 "business lunch" at Hooters between Frisbie and his attorney for which there was no receipt.
The sheriff paid back the $4,400 out of his own pocket at the request of officials at the State Board of Accounts.
Frisbie said he welcomes the State Police investigation and is confident that he will be cleared of all wrongdoing.
"Our books are wide open," he said. "We've got nothing to hide."
The sheriff called the State Board of Accounts findings "accounting errors."
He said many of the items pointed out in the report, including the limousine ride, were charged to the department's Visa card by George Alexander, the former Sheriff's Department manager who pleaded guilty in federal court last month to stealing nearly $50,000 in federal grant money.
Frisbie said he intended to pay back the $800 for the plane tickets to the June 2006 conference, but he forgot.
Deputy State Board of Accounts Commissioner Paul Joyce, however, said Frisbie's explanations for the misspent money did not absolve him of responsibility.
"From out standpoint, that's his opinion and his excuse," Joyce said. "We still believe he owed that money back."
But, Frisbie is hardly alone when it comes to trouble with the State Board of Accounts. Auditors asked public officials, across the state, to reimburse their departments a total of $3 million this year, Joyce said.
And State Police detectives received more than 200 requests to investigate public agencies from local officials in 2007, said Putnamville Post spokesman Sgt. Rich Myers.
Bookwalter said the plane ticket purchase is one of the biggest issues raised in the audit since it was the only purchase listed that was explicitly for Frisbie's personal use.
But, the prosecutor said he is reserving judgment until after the State Police completes its investigation.
All of the misspent money or missing receipts auditors found came from the Sheriff's Commissary Fund, according to the 15-page audit made public this week.
The Commissary Fund collects money from several sources, but it receives most of its cash from selling toiletries and snack food to jail inmates.
The Putnam County Jail's commissary sells everything from dandruff shampoo and playing cards to Ramen noodle soups and candy bars.
In 2006, the Sheriff's Department spent about $230,000 from the Commissary Fund -- much of which went to buying supplies for the inmates' commissary, according to this year's audit of Putnam County.
Every sheriff's department in the state operates a commissary fund and the money from the account can be used for only certain purposes, according to state law. These include:
* Merchandise for sale to inmates through the commissary,
* Expenses incurred while running the commissary,
* Training for sheriff's deputies and sheriff's department employees,
* Equipment installed in the jail,
* Equipment, such as computers, uniforms and vehicles, Sheriff's Department employees use to perform their jobs,
* Activities to help maintain discipline among jail inmates,
* Programs to help reduce criminal activity like drug use, domestic violence and drinking and driving, and
* The establishment and operation of a sex and violent offender registry.
State law also says that a county's commissary fund is the responsibility of the sheriff's department alone.
This means purchases made from the Putnam County Sheriff's Department Commissary Fund, unlike most other expenses in county government, are not overseen by the County Auditor and cannot be regulated by the County Commissioners or the County Council.
Only the State Board of Accounts has oversight of the Commissary Fund.
Frisbie, however, is required to make reports to the County Council twice a year.