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Commissioners address audit request

In response to a letter from Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway announcing that a complaint had been received from a Whistleblower Hotline alleging fiscal mismanagement within the St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the county commission has announced it will assent to a request made by Galloway to consider passage of an ordinance or resolution asking for her office to perform an independent audit of the prosecutor’s office.

According to Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher, the overnight letter was received by all three members early Tuesday, although they had received an email the night before from Galloway’s office informing them the letter had been mailed.

In the letter, Galloway further states that, “The allegations presented to my office include that county funds were spent inappropriately on questionable expenditures by [County Prosecutor Jerrod Mahurin]. In addition, the whistleblower expressed concerns with alleged bonus payments being made to employees of the prosecutor’s office without the approval of the county commission.

“Upon the initial review of this matter as provided by Section 29.221, RSMo, I have determined that these allegations are credible. Given the number of county employees potentially involved, an independent audit is necessary to determine whether and to what extent public resources were improperly used.”

Gallaher said, “They’ve asked the commission for an invitation to do the audit because the county is responsible for the cost of the audit, so we have to authorize that. I talked to the state auditor’s attorneys this morning and they said it is a focused audit limited only to the prosecuting attorney’s office.

“Talking to our county attorney Travis Elliot, we have agreed that we’ll probably have a closed session next week to do this. We’re not going to just shotgun rush it through. We’re going to think about it. I’ve also got estimates of the cost for the audit — because, again, it will be borne by the county. They’re also going to give us suggested wording for the resolution to limit the scope of the audit.”

County Prosecutor Jerrod Mahurin has been under fire since a county commissioner’s meeting at which he requested job title changes for two employees in his office, along with raises in pay. Vonne L. Karraker, an attorney with Manley, Karraker & Karraker in Farmington, voiced her concern that allowing Commissioner Gay Wilkinson to vote on the matter could be considered a conflict of interest because he had not been charged by the prosecutor when he was accused of fraud for allegedly falsely representing mileage reports.

Mahurin responded at the time that while he had heard allegations made against Wilkinson, his office had never received any official report from any law enforcement agency on the matter — thus no charges were filed.

Additional allegations by former female employees accusing Mahurin of showing favoritism and sexually harassing workers in his office, as well as a statement posted on social media by a Farmington Police officer blaming Mahurin for his decision to leave law enforcement — all of which the prosecutor has denied — has put an ugly and contentious head on the Democrat’s reelection campaign against Republican Melissa L. Gilliam in November.

After all of the allegations that have been made against Mahurin, Commissioner Wilkinson admitted the state auditor’s request could be looked at as being a help to the county commission.

“It takes it out of our hands and puts it into the hands of the state auditor’s office,” he said. “It can put all the allegations to bed.”

In response to the letter, County Auditor Louie Seiberlich said, “All of the allegations, accusations from Ms. Karraker over the summer — the seven Sunshine Law requests we’ve had to fulfill from her — maybe this will quiet her somewhat, at least on this front.”

Gallaher interjected, “You know, the taxpayers are bearing the cost of these allegations and now this audit. I don’t know what that group is paid, but we’ve got a few thousand dollars in labor and the cost of copying and attorneys fees. They paid some minimal amount — like $5…”

Seiberlich continued, “For thousands of pages. What the state auditor is going to do is basically the same thing that we’ve already done, but they’ll verify now. I’m going to take a copy of that letter and send it to Daniel Jones, our current external auditor, and also to Maloney, Wright and Robbins because it goes back to 2015.

“Maloney, Wright and Robbins did 2015, 2016 and we’ll do that as a professional courtesy. They need to be aware of this situation. Now, if I’m not mistaken, Mr. (Bret) Burgess was the auditor in 2015 and 2016, so all requisitions that came from across the street were approved by that auditor and then me from 2017 forward.”

Asked if he had found any financial wrongdoing in the county prosecutor’s office since he’d been county auditor, Seiberlich responded with an emphatic “none.”

“And neither did Maloney, Wright and Robbins and Daniel Jones Associates,” he said. “Now, they don’t come in and say, ‘Who are we going to pick on this year? The prosecuting attorney! The sheriff’s department! Road and Bridge, or whatever. They don’t do that. They do a general overview to make sure everything balances. We don’t think we’ve missed anything from 2017 to the present of any receipts or payments.”

Gallaher said, “We think that our audits show that every dollar is accounted for, but what they may be going into is why that dollar was paid to that person. Is there justification for that? That may be an issue our auditors didn’t catch.

“Our books are audited twice each year — internally and externally. I’m looking at it as, ‘OK, so here’s an opportunity to find something we may have missed and maybe finetune our system, whatever. Also, it gets the focus on finding out the truth. I’m looking at this as the answer to what we need to do.

“Think about it — we’ve gone from paperwork to digital auditing. We’ve gone through two generations of auditor offices. We’ve gone through new software and even changed out all of the computers. There’s been massive changes in that three or four years. If they don’t find something I’d be stunned with all those changes, but we’re definitely better off than we were as far as systems and procedures.”

Seiberlich said, “The primary purpose of an auditor is to find something. I mean, we don’t walk out without finding something — whether it be internal control, policies or something. Otherwise, you’re not earning your pay.”

Gallaher said all the records required for the audit to be performed by the state auditor is ready to go and the commission and all other county employees are prepared to help Galloway’s office in any way needed. The presiding commissioner also had words of praise for the whistleblower program.

“The whistleblower program is a great thing and we need to mention that in our policy. It’s not mentioned now, but we need to.”

Still, all three commissioners — Gallaher, Wilkinson and Patrick Mullins — all expressed concern that the attack against Mahurin over the past few months could be a political ploy to hurt the incumbent’s chances in the November election.

It’s something Mahurin believes to be a distinct possibility as well.

“I’ve had a chance to review that letter,” he said. “Let me say first and foremost that I openly welcome any audit. I’ve been audited just like every officeholder at least twice if not three times every year because of the budget and the amount of money the county deals with. I have never had an issue with an audit or anything dealing with monetary expenditures.

“Any money that is ever paid out from my office — of any kind, through any fund, payroll or reimbursements — have to be sent over in the form of a purchase order through the county and have to be approved by the auditor and the county commission. I do not have access to any funds that I can disburse on my own.

“Any allegation that I would have used money inappropriately or disbursed bonuses — I don’t even have the ability to do that. I don’t actually have any money in my office. Everything is controlled by the commission, the county treasurer and the county auditor — and I have to request that money before it’s disbursed.

“Obviously, if they requested from the auditor’s office that [the letter] be sent to the commission on primary election day, it would seem to be political in nature. I’ve had a lot of mud slung at me and I will welcome the time I receive to answer that and at any other proceedings that come up. I open my books to any auditor, to anybody who needs to review my documents. I certainly hope this is concluded before the general election.”

“They’ve asked the commission for an invitation to do the audit because the county is responsible for the cost of the audit, so we have to authorize that.” — SFC Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher

St. Francois County Prosecutor Jerrod Mahurin explains office job title changes he was requesting during a recent county commission meeting which became heated after local attorney Vonne Karraker voiced several concerns about his office. Now the state auditor has asked to review the office's finances. Mahurin said he welcomes any audit. 

St. Francois County Prosecutor Jerrod Mahurin explains office job title changes he was requesting during a recent county commission meeting which became heated after local attorney Vonne Karraker voiced several concerns about his office. Now the state auditor has asked to review the office’s finances. Mahurin said he welcomes any audit. 

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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