Former Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said Thursday he accepts full responsibility for not properly accounting for expenditures from the department’s Furtherance of Justice Fund but says he felt blindsided by the press release issued by state auditor David Yost which portrayed Bratton as spending more than $9,000 on personal items.
In May 2011, during the county’s routine financial audit, state examiners reviewing the sheriff’s office use of FOJ fund found purchases for medications and Cedar Point Amusement Park season passes. That triggered an examination by a special audit task force that expanded the scope of audit into all FOJ expenditures.
The special audit reviewed bank records and credit card statements and found expenditures of $9,114 that the press release describes as “personal in nature.”
It says Bratton issued checks totaling $5,061 that were payable to “cash”, “Sheriff Bob Bratton” or a bank to withdraw FOJ funds. Of that, $2,657 wasn’t supported with the proper documentation that would indicate if they were used for the correct public purpose.
According to the audit, Bratton also made $1,973 in unsupported gift card purchases with the fund’s credit card as well as $160 in office gift items.
The credit card purchases include $1,356 worth of personal prescriptions and $745 to buy shoes, belts, neckties, reading glasses, cigars, watch, haircut, physician’s office co-payment, books, and a coat.
The auditor’s office issued a finding for recovery against Bratton totaling $7,679. He was later able to provide documentation supporting another $465 of the expenditures and last month reimbursed the county’s general fund $7,214.
The FOJ for sheriffs is set by state law at an amount equal to half of a sheriff’s salary. The Ohio Revised Code says the fund is to be used “to provide expenses that the sheriff incurs in the performance of the sheriff’s official duties and in the furtherance of justice.” Sheriff’s are required to file an itemized statement with the county auditor each January of the fund expenditures.
Bratton resigned as sheriff last August to become the police chief in the Village of Genoa.
He said he used much of the FOJ fund for staff training and equipment not covered by the department’s annual budget. At an orientation program for new sheriffs he attended, he said the presenters could only present “vague” guidelines on how the fund could be used.
Last week, he conceded he didn’t keep a good ledger of gift cards he distributed. One went to a citizen who assisted a deputy whose patrol vehicle was stuck in a snow drift. Another went to someone who provided a tip that led to the arrests of two persons who were wanted by the department.
The sheriff also purchased pizza for the staff of the county jail he credited for stopping an attempted suicide of an inmate. He bought cigars for someone who did repair work in the dispatcher’s office at no charge. He purchased lunch for inmates who were working in the west end of the county on clean-up detail after a June 2010 tornado rather than drive them back to the jail in Port Clinton to eat.
He used FOJ funds to pay for half of an awards presentation program to recognize deputies who saved the lives of two people. Carroll Township paid for the other half.
“There is no missing money out of my petty cash,” Bratton said. “The auditors didn’t like how I kept it. But they couldn’t always agree on how that should be done. I walked away from this whole mess with a lot of unanswered questions.”
In hindsight, he says now he realizes he should have reimbursed the FOJ account for credit card purchases through the bank rather than the petty cash. He said he has receipts for meals purchased through the fund but not for several other expenditures.
The tickets to Cedar Point were purchased when he was preparing an employee incentive program.
“I charged two tickets and found out they required a photo ID. The daily passes are not photo ID. I had already charged the tickets so I reimbursed the FOJ account with my personal money,” he said.
He said he will reimburse the county for the cost of the investigation. Findings of the audit were forwarded to the county prosecutor’s office.