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Sheriff probes missing funds
BYLINE: Ryan Carter, Staff Writer
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Fayette County, OH

Fayette County Sheriff Vernon Stanforth has initiated an investigation of his own office after learning some of the money confiscated by his deputies in a criminal case appears to be missing from the office.

"I have initiated an internal and criminal investigation into a discrepancy of monies in a case of a pending criminal trial," Stanforth said. Stanforth came to the Record-Herald offices Wednesday to release the information. He said he was recently notified by one of his deputies of the discrepancy when the deputy retrieved the case file in preparation for a trial.

Stanforth declined to comment on the specifics of the criminal case.

"The money was confiscated during a criminal investigation and is subject to forfeiture by the courts," he said.

Information about the discrepancy was also presented to Fayette County Prosecutor David Bender, who has requested the assistance of a special prosecutor from the Ohio Attorney General's Office to oversee the investigation. Detectives from Franklin and Ross county sheriff's offices will also be used to assist the special prosecutor in the internal and criminal investigations, according to Stanforth.

"The internal and criminal investigations will be conducted separately and independent of the other," Stanforth said. "The findings of each will be presented to the special prosecutor for review and for presentation to a grand jury if the special prosecutor deems it necessary based on the outcome of the investigation."

Stanforth said that two investigations is the best method to use. "There are different levels of protocol," he said. "The investigation will look at who would have had access to the money. If the investigation points to an employee of the sheriff's office, and I do not know that it will, then that employee must answer our questions during an internal investigation. But in a criminal case, Miranda rights would come into play for that person."

Stanforth has also ordered a review of all criminal cases involving the confiscation of money.

"A review of procedures has also been ordered with recommended modifications to be promptly implemented," he said. The area used for evidence storage at the sheriff's office is to be modified, including the installation of a 24-hour digital recording surveillance camera to monitor the property room.

All public money is accounted for and is not part of the investigation, according to Stanforth.

Forfeiture money is taken from criminal suspects and can be ordered by a judge to ultimately be placed in special funds established by the county auditor to be appropriated by the county commissioners for use in other criminal investigations.

"Although the discrepancy does not involve taxpayer money, we are stewards of all monies entrusted us and we have an obligation to ensure the monies are accounted for at all times," said Stanforth. "Mr. Bender and I have asked for an independent review and will pursue what ever course of action is recommended from that review."

There is no timetable on the two investigations. "It could take one month, two months or even longer," Stanforth said.

No more information will be released about the investigations until they are completed.

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