Kentucky Auditor of Public Accounts Mike Harmon announced May 21 that the office of Pike County Attorney Howard Keith Hall was one of nine audited as part of an examination of select county attorneys.
And, while some concerns were found by auditors who examined Pike County, the issues found in Pike were not among those Harmon identified as being included in a group being reported to law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Those county attorneys offices are located in Lawrence, Boyd and Gallatin counties, Harmon said.
Harmon said in a statement May 21 that the audits were conducted on the activity in the offices between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2019, and found numerous issues throughout.
“Based on our special exam of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Child Support Enforcement (CSE) Program, which my office released last December, we identified various issues that prompted our decision to conduct an examination of nine county attorney offices,” Auditor Harmon said. “We found numerous issues related to poor oversight and lack of controls over taxpayers funds, and little guidance and review from the state level.”
Issues found in Pike County, according to Harmon’s audit, included:
• More than $2,300 paid to various local clubs and high school sports teams with no detailed supporting documentation.
• $350 paid to Pike County Tourism for a table at the 4th of July Event in 2018.
• $315 paid in dues to a local service club.
• Over $1,200 used for food for office meetings and holiday parties. Total includes $125 paid to a local high school cheerleading team for cream horns and $140 paid to a local high school dance team for pulled pork sandwiches.
• For FY 2018 and FY 2019, a total of over $930 in interest was paid on a Line of Credit.
• Erroneous deposit of delinquent tax funds in 2018 results in $25,000 in funds owed by the County Sheriff to the County Attorney. Amounts owed to the two offices were switched. This issue has not been resolved as of January 2020.
• Approximately $306 due to the Pike County Clerk for cold checks and plaintiff fees was deposited into the Pike County Attorney’s Criminal Division Account in FY 2018 and FY 2019. In February 2018, $119 of this total amount was remitted to the Pike County Clerk. As of February 26, 2020, the balance of $187 remains outstanding.
Hall said that the issues found in his office mostly centered on the use of a petty cash fund that most county attorneys with whom he has spoken also maintain. Under the auditor’s guidance, any money left in that fund at the end of the fiscal year going forward will be sent to the county government.
“County attorneys have to earn their fees to run their office with,” he said, adding the state only gives $3,000 annually to county attorney office, with most of the revenue coming in through contracts for services such as child support collection. “Generally speaking, we earn our keep.”
Hall said that, about 15 years ago, the state county attorneys association requested guidance from the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office on how the local offices could spend their money.
“The only rule we had was that anything we spent had to serve a public purpose,” he said.
Hall said that, overall, he was pleased with the audit.
“At the conclusion of the audit, my office received an additional $25,000 that we didn’t even know was due to us,” he said. “All the criticism came from whether small distributions from the petty cash fund were used for a public purpose or not. They had concerns whether small distributions to schools and charities were a public purpose or not.”
He said he welcomes the oversight.
“I think there ought to be an annual audit,” he said, adding he also looks for the audits to lead to changes at the legislative level. However, he expressed disappointment over not being able to make the small purchases from schools and charities and to pay for memberships to organizations such as Kiwanis.
The Kiwanis Club memberships, he said, for example, result in fundraising activities which benefit the Big Sandy Child Advocacy Center, which, in turn, provides free-of-charge forensic services to his office in the course of the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases.
In the cases Harmon said were to be forwarded to law enforcement, severe issues were found. According to Harmon’s statement, auditors found that Lawrence County Attorney Michael Hogan awarded $134,500 in bonuses from delinquent tax fees to employees in his office. A total of 94 percent of that, Harmon’s statement said, was paid to Hogan’s wife, totaling $126,500.
In Boyd County, Harmon’s statement said, the audit findings led to an indictment of the office’s former child support enforcement office supervisor on charges related to a total of $113,000 allegedly taken over a seven-year period.
In Gallatin County, the statement said, auditors found that, among other expenditures, the county attorney’s office there paid more than $36,000 for both personal expenses and expenses related to County Attorney John G. Wright’s private law practice.
The full audit report is available at the auditor’s website, auditor.ky.gov.