Answering the Audit: Forrest Co. Sheriff's Department

Answering the Audit: Forrest Co. Sheriff's Department
Answering The Audit

FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Forrest County Supervisors requested an independent audit into the sheriff's department regarding financial discrepancies.

The report on applying agreed-upon procedures was conducted by Nicholson & Company, PLLC and submitted to the board of supervisors on Sept. 3.

During a December board meeting, three months after the report was completed, the supervisors approved it for the minutes.

Over a dozen items were highlighted, all with recommendations for the department to help it run more efficiently.

"That's why we had the audit performed, it's why we have come back and doing the computer version of the auditing system, and yeah there were some discrepancies between the deposits, but I think that from the audit report that the numbers were correct overall," Forrest County  Board of Supervisors President David Hogan said.

The five page report covered transactions from Oct. 1, 2014, through May 31, 2015.

Here is one of those examples:

"During February of 2015, we noted the sheriff's office remitted $8,045.00 instead of the total monthly deposit amount of $11,558.50."

Hogan said that difference, $3,513.50, was one check that was deposited in March.

"It may not have been that the exact amount was deposited that month, it may have been a little more deposited the following month, or the previous month, and then less that month," Hogan said.

The report lists a recommendation as the following:

"Monthly settlement statements should be reviewed by someone independent of the preparer. The total amount of the settlement should be reconciled to the total collections deposited into the sheriff's escrow account and to the total receipts collected during the settlement period. We recommend that the sheriff's office utilizes the Jail Tracker software automated process to properly post collections and issue receipts. This would enable the county to track both fees and their subsequent payment related to each inmate processed through the county jail."

Another example:

"We noted payments received from jail receipt numbers 49584, 49648, 49655, 49707, 49733, 49766, 49793, 49807, 49828, 49874, 49876, 49877, 49891, and 49892 were not deposited into the sheriff's escrow account. Instead the payments collected from these receipts were paid directly to Sharon Thompson, clerk of the Forrest County Justice Court on May 11, 2015. Payment included one check for $1,839.35 and cash of $6,984.89."

The recommendation:

"The sheriff's office should never remit cash or other amounts collected without first depositing them into the sheriff's escrow account. All settlements should be paid using escrow account checks that can be traced back to the signed settlement reports."

Money was not the only issue highlighted in the report.

Jail Tracker software purchased by the sheriff's office has not been fully implemented.

"We have been partially using it in the past. In the past, it was done by more of a paper spreadsheet and pencil," Hogan said.

A safe located in the accountant's office was observed as open and unlocked during the site visit.

When questioned about the open safe, Hogan defended the item mentioned in the report.

"You know I mean, you are talking about inside of the sheriff's office, where there is gunned law enforcement officers, I don't see it as a huge issue," Hogan said.

Hogan said one of the main reasons the audit was requested was Herbert Hart, who handled the books for the sheriff's department passed away.

"The board saw it fit to request an audit of the procedures that were going on at the time; I know they were probably antiquated because (Hart) probably didn't have all the computer skills and things that are used in today," Hogan said.

Seven on Your Side showed the audit report to State Auditor Stacey Pickering to get his perspective.

"The issues in here that they have uncovered and found will be reported to our office, we'll track these issues, it's something we will be following up on," Pickering said.

"There wasn't really anything in there that we saw that was probably inappropriate necessarily," Hogan said.

Throughout the report, multiple recommendations are highlighted on how clerks should handle money, the proper way to deposit in the sheriff's escrow account and how to properly use Jail Tracker computer software for inmate charges and collections.

"You know as I said we, the board of supervisors asked for this audit, we put other precautions with the help of Sheriff Billy McGee in place to make sure that we are doing the most modern and proper way of accounting for those dollars, and so I don't see it as that big of an issue," Hogan said.

"During the audit process, these findings are given to the local county administrator, the county government, then go back to the jail and say, what are you doing to correct these problems?" Pickering said.

Other items noted in the report:

  • Bank reconciliations were not approved.
  • Settlement reports were often not complete and did not include documented evidence of the sheriff’s approval.
  • A noted break in the numerical sequence of escrow account checks from check number 1200 to 1298.
  • Complete settlements were not remitted to the county on a timely basis.

"We are working with Billy McGee and the Chief Financial Officer Penny Steed to make sure all of those recommendations are implemented," Hogan said.

"We are going to come back next year and say 'OK, this is what you found last year, what have you done to correct it and has it been corrected?'" Pickering said.

We reached out to Sheriff Billy McGee and he declined to comment on the story.