Auditor questions sheriff's use of petty cash account ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

December 26, 1992|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County sheriff's office can't account for more than three-quarters of a petty cash account it should not have had in the first place, the county auditor has claimed.

Moreover, Joseph H. Novotny, the auditor, questioned the way Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. and J. Patrick Ogle, the chief deputy, spent some of the money.

In a Dec. 15 memo to Sheriff Pepersack, Mr. Novotny complained that the sheriff's office "was unable to identify $8,641 of the $11,166 deposited in the account through October 31, 1992."

Mr. Novotny also questioned using the money to buy tickets for a Marine Corps ball attended by Mr. Ogle, spending $2,200 on a softball tournament and "several mixers and anniversary parties for civic and trade organizations . . . [and] several retirement parties. . . ."

"It appears that several purchases were split so that you could bypass

the county's purchasing system," Mr. Novotny wrote. "There were some items for which you received reimbursement twice. Several checks were made out to 'Cash.' "

The controversy over the account is the latest of several acrimonious confrontations among Sheriff Pepersack, the County Council and the administration of County Executive Robert R. Neall.

Sheriff Pepersack has overspent his budget twice in the two years he's been in office, which prompted angry encounters with council members when he told them they hadn't given him enough money to operate his office.

In July, he sued Mr. Neall and the council, asserting that they had overstepped their bounds when they eliminated from the budget the position of undersheriff, then occupied by Mr. Ogle. That suit has yet to come to trial.

As a countermeasure, Mr. Neall has asked State Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, to introduce in the next General Assembly session legislation that would give the executive control over the budget of the sheriff's office.

Mr. Novotny said that the audit was conducted last month after his office was told of the petty cash account. "We never saw a checking account before that someone else maintained. Usually, the controller is the one who controls all the checking accounts," Mr. Novotny said.

On Dec. 1, Mr. Novotny wrote what he described as a friendly memo to Sheriff Pepersack, asking him to account for the money spent from the petty cash account. The sheriff replied in a memo dated Dec. 10 that "the information you requested is not available."

"Because of the amount of time that has passed we can not reconstruct the transactions," he wrote. "However, I can assure you each and every transaction was in the furtherance of the sheriff's office duties and was reasonable and necessary."

Sheriff Pepersack added that when he took office in December 1990 he asked the auditor's office to help him "square away this account."

"Your staff said no! I asked the county, they were too busy!" the sheriff wrote, underlining the sentences. "Which left me and my staff to do the best we could."

Sheriff Pepersack said he developed a purchase order request form in which each petty cash expense would be explained in writing, approved and kept on file.

In his Dec. 15 memo, Mr. Novotny replied that the new form "does nothing to address this problem."

In addition, Mr. Novotny wrote that his office had never been contacted about helping with the petty cash account. "Had we been contacted, we would have informed you that the County Charter prohibits anyone but the controller from disbursing county funds," he wrote.

Mr. Novotny said the matter has been referred to County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. for a ruling.

"I would hate to say right now that there's been a misuse of anything," Mr. Novotny said. "Right now, I think my position is that, hey, I'm folding my hands. What else can I do at this point, if that's the kind of cooperation we're going to get?"

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