Inmates benefit from scrap metal

Tennessee comptroller Justin P. Wilson issued on Feb. 8 the results of an investigation into the possible misuse of county funds via the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Office litter program. For approximately two years prior to the takeover of the new administration, jail inmates routinely sold collected scrap metal and then used the money to purchase lunches, snacks, drinks and tobacco products, according to the Comptroller.

Inmates and litter patrol officers received at least $23,763.18 in cash from private vendors during the investigation timeframe of July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2018.

“The scrap metal vendor kept records of most litter patrol transactions, listing the names of the inmates and the sheriff’s litter patrol officers that received cash from the sales. After our review of these records, we determined cash transactions often occurred several times a week and ranged in amounts from $2.10 to $385.70.

“…usually one inmate would collect cash from a sale and bring it to a litter patrol truck, where it was maintained and informally accounted for by officers,” states the report, in part.

The investigation revealed that inmates benefited by at least $23,296.57 while litter patrol officers netted $466.61 during the two year timeframe.

State law requires that county government must be paid by check or money order whenever one of its agencies receives cash through sells. In this case, there should have been a check or money order made out in the amount raised through collections of scrap metal.

“Although the scrap metal vendor consistently wrote checks payable to the county for scrap metal purchased from the county’s landfill, the first check written to the county for purchases from the Sheriff’s Office litter patrol was on Sept. 11, 2018, for $133.58. This practice began under the newly elected sheriff’s administration that took office Sept. 1, 2018.

“The scrap vendor told investigators that paying cash to the litter patrol seemed appropriate since the purchases were from the Sheriff’s Office, and this practice had been established under the vendor’s prior ownership,” states the report.

Claiborne County does not have a formal policy to handle sells of recyclables. The comptroller advises in his report that the county should establish one. The lack of oversight and the failure to abide by state law has resulted in lost revenue, Wilson states in his report.

Currently, the sheriff is depositing with the county trustee checks to cover the sale of scrap metal.

Results from the investigation have been shared with the Office of Attorney General of the 8th Judicial District and with the Attorney General pro tem for the 13th Judicial District.

Wilson has issued copies of his report to members of the Claiborne Commission and to county mayor Joe Brooks.