LAURINBURG — The chairman of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners said Wednesday that the board will withhold comment, as well as further action, regarding the $56,000 spent by Sheriff Shep Jones without county approval until the State Bureau of Investigation releases the findings of its own query.
Reports of the county conducting an internal investigation, according to Chairman Guy McCook, were a “misconception.”
“We think the SBI is going to do a thorough job in helping us determine what, if anything, needs to be addressed,” McCook said. “Once we get the SBI’s report we will take that information and decide what our next steps are — we may need to further investigate some things based on what their report shows.”
The commissioners met last month in closed session to review and discuss receipts, turned over to the county by the sheriff’s office in February, that documented two years of collections from deputies working off-duty as security for Gryphon Group, a military training company at the Laurinburg-Maxton Airbase. Those monies, Sheriff Shep Jones has said, represented reimbursement to the sheriff’s office for fuel used by the deputies in their work at Gryphon Group.
Receipts from a similar arrangement with Troy Construction, a company installing natural gas pipelines in the county in 2012, were also included.
Over two years, the sheriff’s office collected $43,557 from deputies working at Gryphon and $9,650 from deputies working for Troy. Receipts show $13,410 spent in fuel costs for deputies’ work at Gryphon and $3,148 to pay for fuel used working with Troy.
Other expenditures included office supplies and cleaning services, flowers, jewelry, funding of events such as National Night Out, office Christmas parties in 2011 and 2012 and summer programs for at-risk youth.
Neither the receipt or expenditure of funds related to deputies’ off-duty work from August 2011 to August 2013 were approved by the commissioners. In September of last year, when the sheriff’s slush fund was brought to the attention of County Manager Kevin Patterson, deputies began paying the sheriff’s office via money orders rather than cash, and the funds were deposited in a bank account.
On Tuesday, the board of commissioners accepted $16,404 of deputies’ payments from September to February into the county’s general fund.
For the county, the most troubling aspect of the sheriff’s arrangement is the collection and expenditure of monies by a county department without board approval.
“We’ve addressed that issue and made it clear to the sheriff that those expenditures were unauthorized,” McCook said. “We’ve made it clear to all department heads what our expectations are in regard to revenues and expenditures and we expect everything to be budgeted and accounted for.”
As of April 3, an SBI spokesman would say only that the investigation is ongoing, with no clear timeline for a conclusion or report.
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-276-2311, ext. 17. Follow her on Twitter @emkaylbg.