Ashland County decides to close previously unknown bank accounts operated by county law enforcement

Ashland County officials are set to close separate bank accounts operated by the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office after a financial audit revealed their existence.

The Ashland County Finance Committee approved a recommendation from county financial consultants to close two of four separate bank accounts totaling more than $150,000 in revenue. Last year, the county hired accounting and consulting firm MWK, LLC to perform the audit as officials grapple with long-standing financial difficulties. The Ashland County Board of Directors is expected to vote on closing accounts at its next meeting on Tuesday, March 22.

Enterprise Director Member Mike Konecny ​​recommended moving more than $105,000 across two accounts to the county’s general bank account at the March 8 committee meeting. The accounts included income generated by inmates from products sold in the prison canteen, telephone usage charges and electronic monitoring.

“Some of these balances (are) probably from an unknown determination that he was there for,” Konecny ​​said. “He’s been there for years.”

The discovery comes at a time when law enforcement budgets have come under greater scrutiny amid calls by some activists for defunding the police and attempts to demand more accountability.

Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan maintained that all revenue came from canteen sales, including the largest account totaling more than $98,000. He said oversight of those funds fell to former prison administrator Lt. Tony Jones, who was investigated last year for failing to deposit tens of thousands of dollars.

“We have closed this account and opened a new one due to financial discrepancies,” Brennan said.

the Ashland Daily Press previously reported that an inquest found evidence of financial mismanagement by Jones, who died during an investigation by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. A Douglas County detective said no evidence existed to support the theft charges and concluded it was unlikely that approximately $41,000 in missing funds would be found.

During the meeting, Brennan said her office opened a new account to deposit inmate earnings that totaled more than $51,000 as of the end of December. Another account with approximately $7,200 was left open to pay “any other bills…that have not been paid” in the past. The department also has a savings account with a balance of less than $100.

Brennan did not object to the consultant’s recommendation. Even so, he objected to any additional approvals that might be needed to use those funds, limiting immediate access.

“I don’t want to have to go to county council and say, ‘I need to have this’, and it’s going to take one or two or three or how many months it will take us to get the answer when (inmates ) need it right now,” Brennan said.

Ashland County isn’t the only county maintaining separate accounts to deposit revenue from canteen sales or phone service, Brennan said. He said Brown, Barron and St. Croix counties also maintain separate accounts for prison purposes.

According to the consultant’s recommendation, the county would create a restricted account to set aside revenue from canteen sales that would support an inmate welfare program.

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“That way the money will be counted in our audit process every year,” Ashland County Administrator Dan Grady said.

This recommendation received support from members of the Brennan and Ashland County Board of Directors. Even so, council member Pat Kinney stressed the importance of county oversight.

“When we don’t know what’s going on and where and how that money is being used, then … I personally feel like I’m failing in some of my oversight responsibilities,” Kinney said.

The separate accounts surprised Philomena Kebec, a member of the board of directors. In an interview with WPR, Kebec said oversight is needed to ensure there is no overspending and that funds benefit the public and those incarcerated.

“None of that happened,” Kebec said.

In an interview with WPR, Brennan said her office was as transparent as possible. He said the accounts were opened about 20 years ago and Brennan insisted there was no mismanagement of the funds.

“There was no embezzlement. There were no missing or stolen funds or anything like that in the past and that’s why (these) funds are there now,” Brennan said. .

According to the daily pressThe county’s insurance company approved a claim filed last fall to recover about $38,000 to compensate for missing jail funds.

Brennan said there was “control” from the prison administrator, adding that steps had been taken to improve accountability. He said several people are now monitoring inmate incomes and the money raised through prison bonds. Although timely deposits have not happened in the past, he said staff are now making weekly deposits.

Going forward, Kebec said she hopes no more separate accounts will be discovered.

By resolution to be passed by the Board of Directors, the County Treasurer will contact financial institutions in the area to ensure there are no unauthorized accounts. If approved, the treasurer would close these accounts as directed by the county administrator or finance committee.

The county administrator said the two remaining accounts overseen by the sheriff’s office will remain open for temporary revenue collection and balances will be transferred monthly to the county’s general bank account.

Shawanda H. Saldana