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Report Shows Athens Sheriff Misused Taxpayer Funds

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Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly lacks enough money to pay off $14,393 charged to a Furtherance of Justice fund. Ohio State Auditor David Yost noted the discrepancies in a report issued on July 17.

According to the Revised Code of the State of Ohio, FOJ accounts are to provide for expenses which may be incurred by a county sheriff in the state of Ohio in the performance of official duties and in the furtherance of justice. All transactions must be properly accounted for and are subject to audit by the state.

The special accounts were created to give sheriffs and prosecutors a readily available source of money for expenses related to bringing about justice, such as drug buys and paying informants, which couldn’t be provided by county commissioners through normal appropriation channels. FOJ accounts are not personal funds to be used indiscriminately.

According to the state auditor, Sheriff Kelly used the money inappropriately and needs to figure out the best method to pay it back. He cannot take money out of the general fund for legal reasons; a method he and the county commissioners already tried. Kelly plans to pay back some of the excess this year and the rest in a following year. The payment plan has yet to be approved by the state.

“When we reimbursed the money back into the FOJ, they found a problem with that,” Kelly said. “They said, ‘You can not reimburse FOJ.’”

A report from Auditor Yost shows unauthorized purchases made by Kelly. The sheriff spent taxpayers’ money on suits from a Men’s Wearhouse and meals at the Ponderosa Steakhouse on East State Street. Kelly reimbursed the account with $600 of his own money for the suits after the auditor’s office first raised a question.

“We recommend the sheriff ensure his purchases follow both his internal control policies and the Ohio Revised Code,” said Yost’s report, noting that Kelly had repaid $600 into the FOJ account.

A detailed list of funds spent can be found on pages 16-20 of the Ohio Auditor’s Annual report.

Auditor Yost also recommended Kelly reimburse the Athens County Mandatory Drug Fine Fund: a sum of $813.

“Our review of the items purchased by the sheriff using cash drawn from the Mandatory Drug Fine Fund resulted in the following purchases that were unallowable, unsupported/inadequately supported, as well as one personal purchase,” the auditor’s report explained before listing the relevant expenditures.

Kelly has tried working with the state auditor, but has not had much success, and maintains that the other purchases were justified, according to Ohio Revised Code.

“They disagreed with everything – of course they would,” said Kelly. “They finally answered and said, ‘You owe,’ and no, we do not owe them, but we will play their game.”

Money from the Mandatory Drug Fine Fund, according to the state auditor, is not supposed to be used to pay any expenses not related to the investigation of drug offenses, or to meet or supplement the sheriff’s operating budget.

Yost rose several questions about different purchases made by Kelly with the MDFF account, including about $316 for “local restaurant purchases,” documented as meetings, about $100 for “other travel and meal costs unrelated to a specific investigation,” and about $45 for “Sunday brunch for four adults and four children under 12.”

Kelly said he would repay the $813 personally if need be.

“I do that in protest because I do not owe a penny to anybody,” Kelly said. “Everything was done correctly, and (there was) never a penny missing. But the state auditor has the upper hand. There are many things [we] can not do if they withhold money.”

Kelly is not the first County Sheriff in the state to be accused of misusing the publicly funded FOJ accounts. Several sheriffs across the state have been found and convicted of misusing the accounts in the past. The Dayton Daily News conducted an investigation in June, which found misuse of the accounts across the state.

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