Jefferson County Commissioners hear report on K9 account funds

The Jefferson County Commissioners heard the results of an independent audit of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s K9 Account that had allegedly been misused by former Deputy Kyle Pisarcik.

The audit determined that Pisarcik, referred to not by name but as “Dog’s Handler” in the report, took out $10,844 in questioned costs.  Since $4,866 was refunded by the dog’s handler prior to December 31, 2018, $5,978 remained.

The firm of Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC of Harrisburg was tasked with looking at expenditures from the K9 Account from May 17, 2017 through December 31, 2018.  39 expenditures were made during that time, and nine expenditures were questioned.  The fund was created to fund only the costs associated with the purchase of a dog and all costs related to that.

Cory Johnson represented the firm at the regular meeting of the Jefferson County Commissioners on Tuesday.  Commissioners Jack Matson, Herb Bullers, and Jeff Pisarcik were present.  He explained that he has worked with over 30 counties and has seen similar situations where a fund is managed outside of the county’s central structure.  He also cited a line of county code that stated that counties without a controller should have the county commissioners control each transaction in all county funds.

The K9 Account, however, had its own structure.  The sheriff’s office established the account as part of the office’s operations instead of the county’s general fund.  The commissioners were not required to sign off on any expenditures from the K9 Account, only the dog’s handler and the sheriff and chief deputy sheriff were needed to sign off on checks.

“This is where dangerous things happen,” Johnson said.  “The purpose of central control is that the commissioners sign off on the checks.  Every fund should run through central control.  It’s better for transparency.”

Sheriff Carl Gotwald Sr. came to the commissioners’ meeting and spoke during the public comment section.

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” he began.  “But the system was set up for Iron the same way it was set up for Brett.  We used the same system.”

Iron is the name of the police dog covered under the fund.  The system was set up to purchase another police dog decades ago, so Gotwald felt that using the same structure would work in this modern case.  When the commissioners asked to bring the K9 Account under the commissioners’ control, that was done.

“This wasn’t to keep it out of county control,” Gotwald said.  “But looking at what happened, you can see it did because of no control.  It was an unfortunate situation of trust and no oversight.”

The auditors also contacted the businesses where Deputy Pisarcik said he made the purchases.  They were able to obtain invoices from those businesses and determine that the paperwork submitted about those purchases were faked.  The purchases came from Shallow Creek Kennel, Haag’s Feed Store, and two purchases from Leerburg Enterprises totaling over $2,000.  Those were determined to be unpurchased online shopping carts.  A patrol rifle was purchased and never seen by the sheriff.  Pisarcik refunded the account for the rifle and the Leerburg invoices as additional purchases for equipment.

Commissioner Jack Matson also questioned Sheriff Gotwald on the purchase of software licenses through the K9 Account.  Gotwald said that a judge used the software but did not pay the maintenance fees.  He felt that the software was better, reducing workloads down to two hours from two days.  It would be used by the K9 officer, so he purchased that software out of that fund.  The county commissioners had denied his request to purchase the license before.  Matson brought this point up during the public comment section.

“So, you’re fine with the statement that you spent money from an account you were not authorized to?” Matson asked.

“I would say I didn’t do anything wrong,” Gotwald said.  “The software would be used by the K9 officer.”

While Gotwald said that he simply followed the way the account was structured when used in the past, the overall findings of Zelenkofske Axelrod were that the county should bring all funds under central control, making the process more transparent.

The Jefferson County Commissioners will have their next regular meeting on July 9 at 10:30 a.m.  All county offices will be closed on July 4.

Submitted by Andrew Bundy for

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