OREGON – In at least three instances since 2011, credit card statements from the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department have been altered to change the month’s balance or to remove charges.
Copies of the credit card statements were obtained this month by Sauk Valley Media through a Freedom of Information Act request. A review of the three original statements in the Ogle County clerk’s office revealed white out and marker covering up items on the public documents.
Ogle County Chairman Kim Gouker was aware of the changes to the bills, he said, but didn’t think it was done to cover up anything. He reviewed the bills with Ogle County Clerk Rebecca Huntley, he said, and didn’t believe there was anything fraudulent.
Huntley also discussed the issue with Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock.
The changes were made, Gouker said, to remove personal purchases that had been made using the county cards and then paid by employees directly to the credit card company.
Gouker didn’t think the department was covering up anything, he said, because the charges removed were things the county was never going to pay.
On the bill received in December 2011, the “new balance” amount on the statement was covered with white out, and had handwriting over it to indicate a $3,990.44 balance.
The bottom of this bill indicated there were two pages, but the clerk’s office received only the first page.
The county clerk doesn’t need to receive the original bill each month, according to the clerk’s office. For some months, the county clerk has a copy of the bill.
The second page of the December 2011 credit card bill, which was included in the documents that Sauk Valley Media received, showed a Nov. 17 charge to Wave Wackers for $144.86 with a line drawn through it.
Just a month later, on the bill received in January 2012, a charge was blacked out with marker, but portions of the original ink could still be seen, including the word “steakhouse.”
That charge was completely removed on the copy of the bill Sauk Valley Media had received in its original request for documents.
Ogle County chairman Kim Gouker told Sauk Valley Media this month that Sheriff Michael Harn had made a personal charge on his department credit card while in Peoria for New Year’s Eve 2011. That charge, Gouker said, was for $267.
On the copy of that month’s bill, there is no visible charge for $267, but the following month’s bill shows that payment had been made, along with several others, for $267.70. Gouker told Sauk Valley Media that Harn had paid the county by sending a check directly to the credit card company.
The credit card bill received in May 2012 has several areas altered. The “purchases” field was changed to $3,766.09 and the “new balance” field was changed to $3,712.65. Additionally, the first charge on the bill, which appears under Harn’s name, has white out and lines drawn through it on the original bill.
The June 2012 bill shows three payments made to the credit card company, one for $113.58 with “P.P.” written next to it. The other payments are for $2,631.26 with “OEMA” next to it; and $1,006.45 with “CCS + $49.73 (Larry)” written next to it.
The county clerk’s office didn’t have the original credit card bill for June 2012.
The clerk’s office also didn’t have the original bill from November 2012, which, in the copy received by Sauk Valley Media, shows two gaps in the listed charges under Harn’s name.
Because the original bills showed account numbers and other sensitive information, Sauk Valley Media wasn’t allowed to photograph the original bills.
Huntley, the county clerk, said she informed Gouker and Rock of the bill altering this past spring.
On Monday, Rock confirmed that meeting, but he would not discuss what action – if any – he took afterward.
Any investigation or prosecution, Rock said, would be handled by an independent agency. He declined to comment on whether that had happened or what agency he would refer that to, if needed, citing his role as the lawyer for the Sheriff’s Department and County Board.
Lee County State’s Attorney Anna Sacco-Miller said her first choice for an outside investigation would be the state police. Her second choice, she said, would be a nearby sheriff’s department.
Without knowing all the details of the Ogle County situation, Sacco-Miller wasn’t able to give a complete answer as to whether the alterations would violate public records laws.
According to the Illinois State Records Act, it’s illegal for anyone to “knowingly and without lawful authority” alter or destroy a public record. Doing so is considered a felony.
“I would say it’s in a gray area, and you would need to know what the [county] practices are,” Sacco-Miller said. “They’re the gatekeeper for all the claims. Is it best practice? Probably not. Especially if it’s a county card.”
Ogle County didn’t have a policy on credit card use until June 2013. Before then, each department with a credit card made its own policy.