OREGON – Both the Ogle County sheriff and coroner have used county credit cards for personal purchases, but they reimbursed the county right away, Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker says.
On Dec. 31, 2011, Sheriff Michael Harn used his credit card to take his in-laws out for dinner at a restaurant in Peoria, where his in-laws live, Gouker said. He charged the card $267.
“He didn’t have his [personal] card, so he used this one,” Gouker said.
Harn didn’t return numerous requests for comment.
Harn paid the county by sending a check directly to the credit card company. The next month’s bill reflected the payment of that amount.
On the January 2012 bill given to Sauk Valley Media, the item listing the restaurant charge appeared to have been whited out. But the one in the county clerk’s office shows the charge, Gouker said.
Gouker said that when he looked at the original bills, he found that County Coroner Louis Finch had charged the purchase of $479 worth in telephones for Finch Funeral Home to his county credit card. He, too, sent a check to the credit card company the next month to cover that expense, Gouker said.
Finch denied knowing the purchase was on a county credit card. He and Larry Callant, the county’s geographic information systems coordinator, were away from work and Callant offered to help Finch with a purchase, Finch said.
Finch also denied that the purchase was for phones for his business, but instead was for computers for his children, he said.
Finch thought Callant was using his personal card, he said, and didn’t find out it was a county card until Gouker called him about it. That was the only charge Finch made on a county card, he said.
Callant didn’t return a request for comment last week.
Gouker stressed that no one on the County Board had asked the sheriff to stop using his credit bills for personal purchases.
Harn did so after hearing reports this past spring about then-Dixon City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen’s use of his city credit card. He used that card for thousands in personal expenses – most of which he didn’t reimburse until the charges were made public. Ortgiesen was let go over that issue.
When Ortgiesen came under suspicion, Gouker said, the sheriff realized he was doing a something similar, except that Harn was paying for his personal purchases.
“That raised a red flag for him,” Gouker said. “He figured he would discontinue doing that.”
Gouker said he had known about the sheriff using his credit card for personal purposes for a while, but didn’t know about the coroner’s purchase until examining the issue recently.