Summit County Sheriff’s Office audit questions evidence-handling, accounting
Former undersheriff Derek Woodman was named the Republican nominee for Summit County Sheriff after his boss, John Minor, announced in April that he was stepping down. But after county commissioners unanimously picked Democrat Jaime FitzSimons as interim Sheriff instead of Woodman, FitzSimons fired him, citing a precedent that electoral opponents of the sheriff shouldn’t actively serve as deputies.
Woodman was not allowed to return to the sheriff’s office to gather his things. Instead, the 35 years worth of belongings he had accumulated in his office were packed into six large moving boxes and placed in the hallway outside for him to pick up.
Not in those boxes, according to an internal audit of the sheriff’s office released on Friday, was $3,795.89 in cash, two handguns and a black ledger of classified expenses for undercover work. According to the audit, another handgun was found in his patrol car.
The audit, instigated by Minor and conducted over four months by accounting firm Eide Bailly, concludes that there was no documentation identifying why the cash, which had originally been evidence, or guns were in his possession. It also identified evidence-handling policies that created “potential risk” for theft. A further analysis of documents in the audit shows an inconsistent record of how classified funds recorded in the black ledger were ultimately spent.
Woodman confirmed that he ran the task force and was solely in charge of its expenses from 1998 to 2009, when it was disbanded due to lack of funding. He denied any mishandling of evidence or task force funds, and while he acknowledged having one firearm in his office, he denies that he kept two others. He said the county’s audit was politically motivated and designed to sabotoge his run against FitzSimons in the coming election. County Manager Scott Vargo, who was closely involved in the decision to conduct the audit, denied this claim.
Receipts from undercover funds missing in report
According to the audit, the black ledger contained records of “confidential funds” assigned to deputies. The entries range from $200 to $500, but in later years were typically $1,000. From 1998 to 2009, they totaled $50,651.33.
Woodman said this was cash given to deputies for undercover work, namely undercover expenses, drug buys and payments to criminal informants. They needed to have cash on hand for these operations, and were given it in advance and signed out for the payment in the ledger. Then, after spending it, they would submit receipts, which often went into relevant case files.
There was not, however, a single document that balanced the ledger and contained documentation for how the money was ultimately spent. In the audit, there is a document labeled Drug Task Force Confidential Funds Expenditures that catalogues receipts for confidential funds for 1998 to 2002, 2005 and 2009 (there were no records for the other years).
These itemized expenses, Woodman confirmed, represent what specific things deputies were using the cash for—in essence, the other side of the ledger. Entries include undercover spending money and criminal informant information purchases, but also expenses like meetings and pizza.
It adds up to $11,098.27 spent, compared with $50,651.33 documented in the ledger. While there are five years missing, year-by-year there are wide disparities between the ledger and receipts for confidential money; in 1999, for instance, $7,264 was given out according to the ledger, while only $3,600 is documented in the receipts.
Woodman did not deny these numbers were accurate, but noted they represent a highly fragmented record. He also said the task force was routinely audited and never found to have financial problems. Often, he said, receipts were put in case files for the relevant undercover work, although copies were not made and stored in single record.
After 10 years, case files are destroyed, per department policy, meaning that tens of thousands of dollars of receipts were shredded, Woodman said.
The exact source of the receipts in the audit is unclear. It cites only “SCDTF (Summit County Drug Task Force) confidential funds expenditure receipts” that it says were found in Woodman’s office. The accountant who conducted the audit declined to comment, citing company policy to not discuss work done for clients. Vargo, whose office commissioned the audit, did not have information beyond the report obtained by the Summit Daily.
Woodman acknowledged that not collecting receipts for classified funds in a single place meant there was no documentation for how tens of thousands of dollars were specifically spent.
“Is there a better way to do it? Undoubtedly,” he said. “I see it now. But at the time it seemed like an appropriate accounting method. I have no qualms about the way we did it.”
A former Summit County Sheriff’s deputy who worked undercover and received classified funds confirmed the process described by Woodman, adding that the cash was photocopied so serial numbers could corroborate drug buys in investigations.
“When you go through the ledger there’s an initial by the cop who got the money,” Woodman said. “If someone took the money, it wasn’t Derek Woodman.”
According to the report, there was no documentation of why thousands of dollars of cash—some of which was in an envelope marked with a case number from 2013—was in Woodman’s office.
Woodman, however, said that it has been standard procedure for decades for deputies to turn over cash to him from evidence once it has been ordered to be sent to the district attorney’s seizure fund, a repository for money that is not returned to defendants but is no longer evidence in an active case.
He said that rather than taking money from each individual case to the DA, he waited until a large sum had accumulated before converting it to a cashier’s check and delivering it. While there was not documentation of all of the cases the money came from for these transfers, some form of attribution did occur, he said.
According to the audit, there is “confusion” regarding the number of employees required to impound money into evidence. It also cites evidence being retained in personal offices as an “area of concern” due to the risk it being stolen. While Woodman was undersheriff, the office had no evidence technician on staff but has since hired one.
“Everyone knew it was a common process,” he said. “Minor never had a problem with it, detectives never had a problem with it, FitzSimons never had a problem with it.”
“We worked in trust.”
Woodman confirmed he kept a handgun in his office. He said former Sheriff Joe Morales gave it to him 20 years ago for no particular reason and he didn’t know where it came from.
As for the other two guns cited in the report, one of which is said to have been in his office and the other in his patrol vehicle, Woodman denied ever having them—although he did not claim they were planted there.
“If I was doing anything inappropriate why would I have left it there? I had an opportunity to take stuff before I left, and I took some personal effects. I could’ve grabbed it,” he said.
Woodman calls report political
Woodman is confident that the audit, which features him very prominently, was politically motivated because he is running against interim Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons, who was appointed by the county over Woodman after John Minor stepped down from the post earlier this year.
“There is no question about it,” he said. “This is an attempt to discredit my career, and it’s upsetting. This became a witch-hunt.”
Vargo denied any political motivations for the audit, which he said was suggested by Minor before the appointment of FitzSimons.
John Minor confirmed this account, saying that he conducted an audit upon assuming office in 2004.
“Whenever you have any kind of transition, you want to do an audit,” he said.
Vargo said that although the audit focuses largely on Woodman, that wasn’t because of politics but rather Woodman’s role in administration sheriff’s offices finances.
“As the undersheriff, he was in a prominent role in the office and had a number of policies related to evidence, cash, that were his responsibility,” he said. “So you would expect to see him a lot in that report.”
“I’m solely the focus of this audit and they didn’t even talk to me about the results,” said Woodman. “I have nothing to hide.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.
Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User