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MAHONING COUNTY Audit: Sherlock violated policy on credit-card use



Published: Wed, May 8, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The audit questions if some of the commissioner's expenses were county-related.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A special state audit determined Mahoning County Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock used county credit cards to take unauthorized trips contrary to the county's travel policy.

The only finding for recovery in the audit against Sherlock is for $242 she charged to a county credit card for a trip to Cincinnati. Sherlock already paid that amount to the county so the auditor's office considers it a "finding for recovery repaid under audit."

The audit was released today. There are also noncompliance citations, which carry no monetary fine, in the state audit for Sherlock's failure to get prior approval for trips she made to Marietta and Cincinnati in violation of county travel policy.

Also, the Ohio Auditor's Office recommended county commissioners investigate why the word "Cincinnati" was added to a signed travel journal maintained by the clerk of the board of commissioners, which did not jibe with a copy of that same journal in the commissioners' official minute book of the body's actions. The audit says that the state office was unable to determine who altered the commissioners' records.

'Vindication'

Sherlock, who talked extensively to The Vindicator last week about the travel controversy, referred questions about the audit to Marc Dann, her attorney.

"From our perspective, it's total vindication," Dann said. "Obviously, the county learned some lessons about how to handle its accounting, but otherwise, we are delighted with the outcome."

Dann said the fact that he's handling audit questions for Sherlock isn't an indicator that she expects to face criminal charges as a result of the audit.

"Absolutely not," he said. "There is simply nothing in that report that would rise to anything near that level."

He said there were legal issues that arose during the audit process, and he helped Sherlock with them.

"That's the only reason I'm involved," he said.

How it started

Sherlock came under fire last fall after questions were raised about her use of county credit cards for trips she and her boyfriend, Leo Jennings, took to Philadelphia, Marietta and Cincinnati. There were also questions raised about a trip she and Jennings had planned to take to Chicago but didn't.

The audit states that Sherlock failed to inform the county's two other commissioners, David Ludt and Ed Reese, about the Cincinnati and Philadelphia trips. The audit states the Cincinnati trip does "not appear to be for purposes related to county business." Sherlock had contended the Cincinnati trip was county business related.

Also, the audit states Sherlock charged the county $52 for one night's stay at a Marietta hotel -- even though she did not spend the night. Instead, she and Jennings traveled to Cincinnati.

"Commissioner Sherlock was unable to provide a business reason for not staying at the hotel; however, she asserted that she used the hotel room to change clothes before attending [a] conference," the audit reads. "The county did not receive a benefit for this expense. As of the date of our report, Commissioner Sherlock has not reimbursed the county." The audit mentions no finding for recovery of this expense.

Critic's reaction

Mark Belinky, president of the Democrats of the 17th District, a local political organization that vocally criticized Sherlock for the questionable travel expenses, says the special audit vindicates his group.

Belinky is calling on county Prosecutor Paul J. Gains to review the audit and consider convening a special grand jury, saying county records appear to have been altered.

XContributor: Staff writer Bob Jackson




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