Commissioners satisfied state can dive deep into Bradley County Sheriff's Office finances

Commissioners satisfied state can dive deep into Bradley County Sheriff's Office finances

September 6th, 2017 by Judy Walton in Local Regional News

Document: Statement from Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson released a statement after checking into jail.

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Document: Statement from Attorney General on Eric Watson

The DA released a statement on Eric Watson.

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County commissioners looking for someone to do a deep dive into the sheriff's office's finances seemed satisfied Tuesday that the state comptroller's office can do the job.

A pair of officials with the Division of Local Government Audit met Tuesday with the ad hoc committee named to decide the scope and cost of what commissioners have called a "forensic audit" of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.

Two weeks ago, the full commission voted 11-3 to form the panel after more than a year of allegations including credit card misuse, missing money and improper property disposal. The members include commissioners Milan Blake, Thomas Crye and Bill Winters and County Attorney Crystal Freiberg. Commissioners Louie Alford, Mike Hughes and Dan Rawls sat in on the session Tuesday.

Also sitting in was a representative of attorney Andrew J. Brown, who told the committee in a letter he has been retained to represent the sheriff's office in any issues related to the committee's work.

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson in his booking photograph following his July indictment on charges of six felony counts of owning or using certificates of title that had been forged or altered.

Bradley County Sheriff Eric Watson in his booking...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Winters asked whether Brown was hired by the department or personally by Sheriff Eric Watson, and Freiberg said the sheriff's office was paying.

The audit officials — Bryan Burklin, assistant director of the Division of Local Government Office, and Steve Reeder, audit manager for the region — said Tuesday they could expand the routine county audit, which begins today, in as many directions as commissioners want investigated.

Burklin said much of the work could be done during the regular audit process and included in the annual fee. Any issues that required extra hours of investigation or interviews would cost more, he said.

But committee members seemed pleased it still would cost less than hiring a private CPA firm for the audit.

Burklin said he already had been given "a whole laundry list" of issues to investigate by Jason Mumpower, chief of staff for Comptroller Justin Wilson, including vehicle dispositions, among other things.

Blake added a few more items to the list, including expense reports, purchase orders, the drug fund, time cards and transactions at the sheriff's garage.

Burklin said the task would be easier and less costly if the auditors had specifics to look at: a tip to check one or a few potentially improper time cards, for instance, instead of reviewing pay records for the entire department.

He said the audit division's fraud hotline, at 1-800-232-5454, is one way people can pass along evidence of improprieties. Freiberg noted that public officials have a legal duty to report illegalities and can be charged with a misdemeanor if they don't.

Burklin said his office also works with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and his agents have spoken with Jimmy Dunn, the special prosecutor overseeing the TBI investigation into the sheriff's office in its 15th month.

One result of that investigation was Watson's July indictment on six felony counts of possessing or using altered or forged vehicle titles in his side business as a used car dealer. Watson has pleaded not guilty and his trial date is set for Nov. 27. His lawyer in that case is James F. Logan Jr.

The ad hoc members voted to recommend to the full commission using the state auditors for the forensic audit.

Afterward, Alford said, "We're not costing taxpayers any more money than we do on our normal audit unless the scope expands considerably."

Contact staff writer Judy Walton at jwalton@timesfreepress.com or 423-575-6416.


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