GREAT FALLS – Cascade County is making changes to financial and equipment purchasing policies after a series of criminal investigations exposed shortcomings in the system.
MTN and The Electric have teamed up to look into the investigations and issues at the county level that lead to these situations and how they’re being corrected.
Since there’s pending criminal trials, information is limited at this point and we don’t want to jeopardize due process, so our work will be ongoing as the cases progress.
This week, we sat down with Sheriff Jesse Slaughter at the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office to discuss some of the changes being made to prevent theft and mishandling of taxpayer dollars.
“We have put some some safety mechanisms into place,” Slaughter said. “All of our purchase orders, every purchase order in the office is reviewed by the undersheriff and then checked by the auditor before approval.”
In December, County Attorney Josh Racki issued a press release saying the county auditor had flagged purchasing irregularities and the ensuing investigation resulted in a felony theft charge against John Stevens, former undersheriff, and a misdemeanor charge against Raymond Hitchcock, former CCSO captain. A separate investigation led to a federal charge against Michele Woods, a former CCSO accountant, who was sentenced earlier this month in federal court.
MTN and The Electric have jointly requested the audits associated with the investigation but have been told they are confidential criminal information at this point.
Slaughter said he’s invited the county auditor’s office to conduct an audit. The two offices have had pre-meetings but haven’t conducted the audit yet, Slaughter said.
Slaughter said it’s important to conduct an audit so as a new sheriff he has a baseline of the office.
CCSO is also working with the county treasurer’s office to deliver cash deposits more frequently, so they aren’t retaining large amounts of cash at the sheriff’s office. So now, if they collect more than $100 in cash in a day, it’s delivered to the treasurer’s office.
A number of programs CCSO have been cash only for years, including the 24/7 sobriety program.
The county is looking to contract that out, removing the county from cash handling in that program, but for other programs, Slaughter said they’re going to start accepting credit and debit.
“I think that is going to be a step in the right direction,” Slaughter said.
He said offering credit and debit payments increase customer service and also add security into transferring funds, lessening the chance for fraud.
“As the sheriff, I always have to build public trust. It is a constant thing. You are always striving to do a better and better job of building the trust of the public and maintaining transparency.”
MTN and The Electric are continuing to monitor and investigate these issues.
-Reported by Jenn Rowell/The Electric & Margaret DeMarco/MTN News