State auditors have found problems in the Putnam County Sheriff's Department Commissary Fund every year Mark Frisbie has been sheriff.
Spending from the account has more than doubled under his watch and past State Board of Accounts audits show that Frisbie took at least two years to correct most problems investigators pointed out in the Commissary Fund and other Sheriff's Department accounts.
This comes in the wake of an audit report published last week that found about $4,400 in missing and misspent funds, all of which Frisbie repaid out of his own pocket at the request of the State Board of Accounts. The findings included $800 for first-class plane tickets to a sheriff's conference in Orlando, Fla., for Frisbie, his wife and his daughter, a $600 limousine tour of Washington D.C. during a conference for fallen officers, $450 for "I Support Sheriff Mark Frisbie" bracelets during election time and a $100 Visa bill at Hooters in Nashville, Tenn., for a "business lunch" between Frisbie and his attorney for which the sheriff could produce no receipt.
At the request of Putnam County Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter, the Indiana State Police has launched an investigation of Frisbie to determine whether he is guilty of criminal wrongdoing.
Frisbie blames his slow response to State Board of Accounts findings on inconsistent advice from auditors. He also said the ballooning Commissary Fund expenditures reflect the growing cost of law enforcement equipment.
But Deputy State Board of Accounts Commissioner Paul Joyce said his auditors are "very well educated" on bookkeeping regulations and that the laws governing commissary funds in Indiana haven't changed for at least a decade.
The Sheriff's Department, like every other governmental body in the state, is audited every year.
Lack of receipts
In their review of the sheriff's 2005 funds, auditors noted that only 40 percent of the Visa card charges that they tested had accompanying receipts. The Visa bills were paid out of the Commissary Fund and by law, all purchases made with public money must be backed up with itemized receipts, according to the audit published in 2006.
As a result the accountants could not verify whether the expenses were allowable and valid, the report said.
State accountants ran into similar issues this year when they found that 31 of the 71 Visa charges made in 2006 did not have receipts.
These included a $360 order from Dell Catalog Sales, $170 in hotel lodgings and the aforementioned $100 bill at Hooters.
Frisbie told the BannerGraphic that it is common for his deputies to pay for equipment or meals while they're at a conference with the department's Visa car and then lose the receipt.
However, he vowed to "lay down the law" and no longer allow reimbursements for bills that do not have receipts.
In 2006, the State Board of Accounts also found that the department racked up $15 in interest charges on the department's Visa because the bill was not paid on time. This, the State Board of Accounts warned, could be an indicator of serious financial problems and should be investigated by the sheriff.
Nonetheless, this year's audit, which was released last week, shows that Frisbie did not correct the problems and continued to incur interest on the department's credit cards -- this time in the amount of about $20.
Indiana law dictates that public employees must pay all of their bills on time, according to the audit.
When they reviewed former Sheriff Tom Helmer's 2002 books, auditors noted that the department was not using the correct ledger for financial transactions with the Commissary Fund.
Frisbie and Helmer were both present at the exit interview with the auditor, according to State Board of Accounts records.
However, it took two more years for Frisbie to correct the problem. Auditors pointed out the issue in their reports in 2003 and again in 2004, records show.
Frisbie said he took so long to adopt the proper ledger because he and the department's office managers received differing advice from the State Board of Accounts on how to handle the Commissary Fund's books.
In the State Board of Accounts' audit of the department's 2003, funds investigators pointed out that receipts were not being given to people who made deposits into the Commissary Fund.
The majority of Commissary Fund money is collected from friends and family members who give inmates money to spend at the jail commissary. Prisoners can buy a wide array of items from the commissary, including snack food, playing cards, soap and deodorant.
Despite the warning, auditors found that the department was still not issuing receipts for every deposit into for the commissary when they showed up the next year.
The lack of receipts could increase the risk of theft or loss from the account, auditors said in the report, which was published in December 2005.
The issue has since been corrected, and Frisbie said this, too, was a problem of miscommunication by the State Board of Accounts.
Despite all of the problems the State Board of Accounts has found with the Commissary Fund, spending from the account itself has grown from a maximum of $120,000 under Helmer -- in 2001 -- to an average of $230,000 every year under Frisbie.
In his first year as sheriff, Frisbie spent $233,000 from the Commissary Fund, eating up much of the $130,000 balance left in the bank when Helmer left office.
In 2006, the department spent about $231,000 from the account.
According to state law, the money can be used for several purposes not related to running the commissary including paying for training for employees, buying new equipment and financing crime prevention campaigns and programs. Only the State Board of Accounts has oversight of the spending from the Commissary Fund.
Frisbie said he did not realize spending from the account had grown so rapidly, but he is not surprised by the revelation.
The cost of law enforcement equipment has increased rapidly, he said, and he has had to use the Commissary Fund moneys to keep his department up-to-date with technology.