Audits: Former Owsley County clerk left his office with a $307,000 deficit

bestep@herald-leader.comApril 15, 2014 

Sid Gabbard resigned as part of a deal to settle charges from prior audits.

JOHNSON, SHELLEY (KYOAG)

Former Owsley County Clerk Sid Gabbard's bookkeeping was so bad he left office last year with a deficit of more than $307,000, according to audits released Tuesday.

One consequence was that the school system, the public library, the health department and other agencies in one of the poorest counties in the nation did not receive all the money they should have.

The school system was shorted more than $34,000 for 2011 and 2012, for instance, the audits said.

Much of the deficit resulted from Gabbard's office taking in tax payments and other revenue, but not depositing the money in the bank or properly accounting for it, according to the reports from state Auditor Adam Edelen's office.

Gabbard did not provide a response as part of the audits, and attempts to reach him Tuesday were not successful.

County clerks in Kentucky collect a variety of fees and taxes that help support other public agencies.

Edelen's office released two audits of Gabbard's office covering the period from Jan. 1, 2012 through June 14, 2013, when he resigned.

The audits found a litany of problems.

For instance, Gabbard withheld tax and retirement payments from employees' checks but didn't send the money to the Internal Revenue Service and other agencies; spent more money than he took in; and didn't follow standard accounting procedures.

In one example, auditors confirmed that Gabbard's office took in $37,037 in delinquent tax payments in 2012, but the money wasn't reported or paid to the school system and other agencies.

Edelen's office will refer the findings to the state Attorney General's Office, Owsley County Attorney Henley McIntosh, the Internal Revenue Service and state tax and retirement authorities.

Gabbard resigned last June as part of a deal to settle criminal charges against him that resulted from problems cited in prior audits.

He entered an Alford plea to charges of filing false tax returns and abuse of public trust. That meant he did not admit guilt, but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him. A judge sentenced Gabbard to eight years in prison, but probated the sentence after Gabbard paid back taxes and $61,118 in restitution.

Edelen said in a news release he hopes authorities will try to recover more money from Gabbard.

"I am relieved Mr. Gabbard is no longer in a position to pilfer from taxpayers, but it is disheartening to know that his outstanding deficit dwarfs his restitution payment," Edelen said.

Gabbard's plea deal covered alleged wrongdoing from 2009, 2010 and 2011, not issues outlined in the two audits released Tuesday.

For those reviews, field auditors used information from outside sources, such as bank records, to try to untangle Gabbard's books.

Because of the accounting problems, however, the audits said that the true amount of unpaid obligations at the time Gabbard left office might be higher than the $307,768 they outlined, which was a cumulative total that built up over several years.

And that was the total after Gabbard paid $27,000 out of pocket last September to reduce the red ink, the audits said.

Gabbard is personally responsible for $283,972 of the deficit, the exams founds.

The audits recommended Gabbard pay back the money, and that the current clerk then send the school system and other agencies the money they are owed.

One of the findings in the just-released 2013 audit was that Gabbard was overpaid $3,204 for calendar year 2013 because payroll was not figured accurately.

His maximum annual salary was $69,356 under state law, so he would have been entitled to $33,395 for the part of the year he worked, but received more, the audit said.

The critical audits released Tuesday were not the first for Gabbard, who was elected in 1985 and held the office until he resigned.

For more than a decade, field auditors had not been able sort out Gabbard's records well enough to figure out whether his financial statements were accurate.

That resulted in a string of audits that did not express an opinion on whether his books showed the true financial condition of the office.

Gabbard made some improvements in response to auditors' suggestions for upgrading his accounting, but not enough, according to the latest reports.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1.

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