BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - The Erie County Sheriff is on the defensive after an audit from the Erie County Comptroller revealed questionable spending.
The sheriff's office used the almost a million dollars in question to buy new Chevy Tahoes, office furniture, and a computer system. The money came from inmates and their families for food and phone calls. The disagreement between Sheriff Tim Howard and Comptroller David Shenk is how the funds generated by the Holding Center's Commissary should be spent.
Sheriff Howard told his side of the story at a meeting of the Erie County Legislature's Public Safety Committee on Thursday, calling Shenk's audit "completely untrue."
Shenk claims the money raised is only supposed to be spent on things that benefit the prisoners, like better mattresses or air conditioning. As for the telephone funds, Shenk admits there are no restrictions on those, but they have traditionally be used the same way.
"These are things that should normally come out of the General Fund," Shenk asserted.
Legislature Thomas Loughran questioned, "What are we arguing over here? I mean, all the money's there."
Legislature Ed Rath added, "I'm not sure how you can come to this determination of what right and what's wrong."
Shenk responded, "Well, the way we looked at it is things that directly benefited the inmates were acceptable, things that indirectly benefited the inmates were questionable and things that didn't benefit the inmates were considered unacceptable."
But Sheriff Howard fired back, "We need to benefit the inmates at increased expense to taxpayers? Come on! We got deputies' cars with 150,000 miles and the question that we use profits from the telephone to buy new patrol cars because the General Fund can't give me the money for that...that I should be criticized for that? I will take it to my grave in disagreement that the inmates have enough benefits; the taxpayers have plenty enough burden."
The Legislature Committee tabled the issue for now. This audit was released 10 days before election day, but Shenk denied that it was politically motivated.
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