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Local

Gouker says it's right time for forensic audit

Ogle County administrative tow fund could get closer look

OREGON – Ogle County's administrative tow fund could get a closer look in the next few months.

During the Ogle County Board meeting Tuesday night, Chairman Kim Gouker voiced support for a forensic audit of the sheriff's department fund. In February, during an executive committee meeting, Gouker opposed a call for a forensic audit, saying that its intention is to find criminal activity and there was no suspicion of a crime.

On Wednesday, Gouker said he still didn't suspect criminal activity related to the tow fund, but said it's the right time to conduct the audit, now that the primary election is over and the county's regular audit is finished.

"I think it's just time to move forward and look at the positive things that we're doing," he said. "And the only way to do that is to take a look at the things that have been brought to our attention."

The sheriff's department collection of a $350 fee for towing vehicles in certain arrests was authorized by a county ordinance in 2011, and in its first 2 years had income of $210,400.

In December, Sauk Valley Media reported that Sheriff Michael Harn had used the tow fund to pay for a variety of department expenses, including repairs to vehicles and a $4,000 management fee for the department’s Facebook page.

In February, the County Board restricted how the money in the fund could be used and ordered that it be transferred to the county treasurer, which was finally done on Tuesday, when Harn gave Treasurer John Coffman a check for $51,932.07.

Harn didn't give the treasurer the fund's ledger or any other documentation of spending from the fund. During Tuesday night's County Board meeting, Gouker said several board members had questions about the ledger and other records.

Gouker said those questions "reinforced" his decision to support a forensic audit.

Even though Gouker said he didn't think anything was being withheld by Harn not turning over the ledger, he thinks this would be a good time to get "a firm handle on" a relatively new fund for Ogle County.

Other county funds handled by elected officials get "refined" during years of use, Gouker said. The tow fund hasn't had that refinement, he said, which could happen through a forensic audit.

That refining is part of a forensic audit's "dual purpose," Gouker said.

"Since there have been so many questions about wrongdoing … whether people think that there has been no money misspent or that there has, doing it this way will let us see one way or the other where it's at," he said.

Gouker said Harn supported the new audit and would cooperate with auditors.

The forensic audit could cost about $7,500, Gouker said during the Tuesday County Board meeting. It could be approved by the County Board next month.

In March, Harn lost in a close three-way primary won by Brian VanVickle, a Rochelle police officer. The Democratic Party has no candidate yet for the general election ballot on Nov. 4.

The new sheriff's term starts Dec. 1.

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