A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate Izard County Sheriff's Department banking practices.
A state audit concluded that Sheriff Tate Lawrence has illegally maintained three bank accounts outside the authority of the county treasurer.
The audit was discussed in Little Rock on Thursday, Nov. 11, at a meeting of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee.
Lawmakers were told that Sheriff Lawrence established three accounts: a reserve officer fund, a substance abuse committee fund and a benevolent fund that only he controlled.
According to auditors, Lawrence acted "beyond his scope of authority" because, under Arkansas law, public funds must be deposited to bank accounts in the name and control of the county as well as the applicable official. In addition, expenditures by county agencies must be budgeted by quorum court, approved by the county judge and paid by the county treasurer. Another Ar- kansas law requires the county judge to accept and handle financial gifts and donations made to the county.
According to the audit report, the accounts the Sheriff established "were not handled in accordance with basic accounting laws" prescribed by state statutes.
The audit showed about $51,700 was deposited into the accounts and about $26,700 was withdrawn between Jan. 1, 2007 and April 30, 2010.
While receipts and other documentation show how some of the funds were spent, it was not clear to auditors how some withdrawals were used.
In addition, the audit found some deposits to the reserve officers fund "were restitution and fines associated with court cases." One receipt indicated a criminal defendant received a verdict of "not guilty by stipulation," the stipulation required the defendant to pay $1,000 to the Reserve Officer Fund.
Paying a fine or making a donation to a Sheriff's fund would not be a normal court practice.
According to the Division of Legislative Audit, it referred its findings regarding the Izard Sheriff's Department to Don McSpadden, prosecuting attorney for Arkansas Judicial District 16.
McSpadden requested that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate the findings.
Polk County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Williamson was named as the special prosecutor.
"We've operated, not knowing we were doing anything wrong, for six years now," Sheriff Lawrence told The News. "Nobody ever said anything in past audits."
Lawrence said, if accounts are supposed to be set up differently, he is willing to "make it right."
Lawrence said he will supply any information he is asked to provide and he is confident the special prosecutor is not considering criminal charges against him.
"There is no issue with money being unaccounted for," added Lawrence. "There is no fraud or anything like that."
"When I heard about a special prosecutor, I asked them in Little Rock, 'What's this?'" said Lawrence. "They told me not to worry about it, it is routine when there are questions after an audit."
Lawrence has served three terms as Sheriff and was elected Nov. 2 to a fourth, two year term.
"We are conducting business as usual," said Lawrence.