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MAHONING COUNTY State probes officials' travel charges



Published: Fri, November 9, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



State auditors decided to look into the matter on their own, an official said.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Ohio Auditor's Office is taking a closer look at travel expenses racked up by Mahoning County officials on county credit cards.

Spokeswoman Kim Norris said it's too soon to say whether officials are guilty of wrongdoing.

Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock has been under fire lately for charges for personal expenses she put on county credit cards during trips she took to Philadelphia, Marietta and Cincinnati.

There were also questions raised about a trip she had planned to take to Chicago, but didn't.

Commissioners are in the process of revamping their policies regarding credit cards, cellular phones and pagers. They were expected to discuss the revision at their meeting Thursday, but deferred action because Sherlock was absent.

Hospitalized: Sherlock is a patient at Hillside Rehabilitation Hospital in Trumbull County, where she was admitted Saturday. In a statement released Thursday, Sherlock said she expects to make a full recovery though she did not disclose the nature of her illness.

Sherlock said she has been in contact with the commissioners' office and is working as much as possible from the hospital.

Commissioner Ed Reese also did not know the nature of Sherlock's illness. He said Sherlock told commissioners several months ago that she has some health problems, though she did not go into detail.

"I certainly wish her well," Reese said. "In times like this, politics is not important. Her health is what matters."

Commissioner David Ludt could not be reached to comment.

Sherlock has paid back all the money from the travels, including what she was authorized by commissioners to spend for herself. Prosecutor Paul Gains has said he sees nothing illegal.

But last week, Sherlock said she's handing the matter over to the Ohio Ethics Commission and Ludt called for the auditor's office to look into it.

Red flags: Norris said her office did not receive Ludt's request. She said members of the auditor's staff noticed some red flags related to travel expenses during the course of a performance audit already in progress for certain county departments.

"We found some information and decided that it would merit some further investigation," Norris said. She would not elaborate.

County Administrator Gary Kubic said the audit staff visited commissioners' offices earlier this week and requested records related to travel expenditures.

"We gave them a lot of material, Kubic said, noting that commissioners handed over all travel records, not just Sherlock's.

"We felt that if they were going to look at one, they should look at them all," Kubic said.

He said other office-holders have put personal travel expenses on county cards in the past and reimbursed the county, just as Sherlock did.

bjackson@vindy.com




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