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Lawyer questions fund transfer

The use of money from the St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin’s bad check fund approved by commissioners to cover the cost of a state audit investigating his office’s financial expenditures drew questions Tuesday from a Farmington attorney.

Appearing at the Oct. 16 county commission meeting, Mahurin, a Democrat seeking re-election in next month’s election, offered to transfer up to $50,000 of his office’s annual bad check budget in the county’s general fund to pay for an audit of his office by the Missouri State Auditor’s Office that has been authorized by the county commission.

Describing a call made to the state whistleblower hotline that led to Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway contacting the county commission to request an invitation to perform an audit of his office as a political attack on his re-election campaign, Mahurin apologized to county officeholders and employees for the extra work placed upon their shoulders.

Also, because the county is required to pay the expense of the forensic audit which could total as much as $50,000, he offered to transfer money from his office’s “bad check” fund to cover the investigation’s entire cost. (Note: A forensic audit is the process of reviewing a person’s, company’s or government entity’s financial statements to determine if they are accurate and lawful.)

The county commission unanimously approved Mahurin’s offer based on two ordinances used as reference by the prosecuting attorney at the meeting.

The first detailed how money collected by the county for bad checks is handled. The second stated that the prosecuting attorney is given the authority to distribute these restitution funds for a number of items such as office supplies, training equipment, capital outlay, hiring of additional staff and expenses for trial and witness preparation, as well as “other lawful expenses incurred by the prosecuting or circuit attorney in the operation of that office.”

When a question was raised prior to the vote regarding legality of the transfer funds for the purpose, Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher said he would check it out with a Springfield-based attorney the county uses to verify its proper use prior to moving the money.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Gallaher addressed the issue, saying, “Regarding the legality of transferring funds to pay for the audit, we double-checked it, and it is legal according to our attorney, and he is a specialist in Missouri county law. It is reasonable that paying for an audit relating to the appropriateness of expenditures in that office is a valid expense.”

In response to Gallaher’s comments regarding the transfer of funds, Farmington Attorney Vonne Karraker asked if the county’s attorney had written either a brief or memo concerning his findings that could be made available to the public now that the question had been resolved.

“Well, it was an email, but it was an email from our attorney,” Gallaher said.

“Right, but you’ve resolved the issue now, so would that record not be available now under the Sunshine Law?” Karraker asked.

Gallaher replied that it was a communication between the county commission and its attorney.

“But there’s no pending litigation about this, right?” she asked.

Gallaher replied that there was no pending litigation regarding the transfer of funds to pay for the state audit, but that the email was communication between the commissioners and their attorney.

“Yes, I understand that,” she said. “I know that attorneys exist and that their clients talk to them. What I’m saying is, if there is no pending litigation and you asked for an opinion about whether or not this was legal and have determined that it was legal, then that particular business is concluded, so would not that email now be available for public review?”

Gallaher said he would check with the attorney to see if the communication could be released.

Karraker said, “Then the question is, how did he determine that this was a lawful expense of an office? I know that’s what it says, but, again, how was it determined?”

Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson interjected, “We have to go by the guidance of our attorney.”

Karraker responded, “I already understand that part. I’m just trying to understand how you got from point A to point B.”

Wilkinson asked Karraker if she could contact the commission’s attorney. She responded that she could but had understood Presiding Commissioner Gallaher said he would do so.

Gallaher told Karraker that she could call him.

“So, he’s going to give me that information just because I called him?” she asked.

Wilkinson said, “I couldn’t tell you that, but he’d be the one to ask. We asked him, and he told us this.”

Karraker replied, “Point of order. You’ll be the one to ask.”

Gallaher said, “I can do that.”

Karraker brought up to the commissioners their vote earlier this year in which they gave a raise to at least one deputy clerk in the prosecutor’s office using money from the bad check fund as the source for the extra funds that would be needed. She asked how the depleted fund could be used to pay for their salaries. Gallaher and Wilkinson explained that the raises will, beginning at the start of the new year, be paid out of the new county budget, not the bad check fund. They also noted that the bad check fund is replenishing and will continue to grow back over time.

Karraker replied, “I’m talking about the budget in general. It took years and years to put together the balance that was in the bad check fund already. It’s not something that, from looking at the record, that it can easily be topped off again, so to speak.”

Gallaher replied that the bad check file wasn’t completely depleted.

“It still has $18,000-plus in it after this transfer,” he said.

Karraker asked if the county has the money to do cover the expense, why isn’t the audit’s cost coming out of general funds rather than the bad check fund?

“The auditor didn’t send the letter to the prosecutor’s office, they sent it to the county commission, correct?” she asked. “That sounds to me like that’s county commission business. Why not have the county general fund pay for that rather than draining the bad check fund?”

Wilkerson replied, “I’m still not clear what the question is. I mean, the prosecutor made the offer, we checked with legal counsel and they said it was something legal to do. We’re acting on that.”

Karraker responded, “Why do it in the first place if the county itself has enough money to pay for the audit without draining that fund?”

Wilkerson said, “I don’t think that comes into the question. His offer was to cover the cost the county was incurring because of this audit. It was offered. It was accepted.”

Karraker asked if she would be receiving a copy of the email between the commission and its attorney or if she would need to file a Sunshine Request. Gallaher said he would contact the attorney.

On Tuesday afternoon, Presiding Commissioner Gallaher contacted the Daily Journal by email.

He wrote, “Our attorney told me to not release any emails between an attorney and his client. This is well established as privileged information.”

“I’m just trying to understand how you got from point A to point B.” — Attorney Vonne Karraker

Farmington Attorney Vonne Karraker, left, looks frustrated as she has a conversation with Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, right, about the use of Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin's bad check fund to pay for a state audit investigating the legality of his office expenditures. Also pictured are Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins, standing, and Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher, center.

Farmington Attorney Vonne Karraker, left, looks frustrated as she has a conversation with Associate Commissioner Gay Wilkinson, right, about the use of Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin’s bad check fund to pay for a state audit investigating the legality of his office expenditures. Also pictured are Associate Commissioner Patrick Mullins, standing, and Presiding Commissioner Harold Gallaher, center.

St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin, standing, addresses county commissioners at their Oct. 16 meeting regarding the cost of the state audit of his office currently underway. He offered, and the county commission accepted, a transfer of up to $50,000 out of his administrative handling cost fund to the general fund in order to cover the cost of the audit.

St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Jerrod Mahurin, standing, addresses county commissioners at their Oct. 16 meeting regarding the cost of the state audit of his office currently underway. He offered, and the county commission accepted, a transfer of up to $50,000 out of his administrative handling cost fund to the general fund in order to cover the cost of the 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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