Fresno Sheriff's Department Makes Million Dollar Mistake

FRESNO, Calif. The sheriff's budget is at stake here. Recent cuts mean Sheriff Margaret Mims is operating on a very slim budget. In the past year, Mims received more than $12-million to provide security at the court house. But, state auditors want the sheriff to repay money for a whole range of billing mistakes.

Fresno County deputies are stationed throughout the court house- providing security and escorting defendants. Court administrators asked for an audit after noticing a big increase in money being spent on deputies. Action News obtained the state's final report-examining how the sheriff bills for security services.

Among the many findings, the sheriff is accused of billing a series of unallowable expenses: $1.4 million went to overtime that may have been double billed, $1.1 million was spent on training the court never authorized, and auditors found the sheriff purchased $15,000 dollars for off duty firearms auditors believe some of those weapons remain in storage.

The audit primarily blamed miscommunication for the accounting errors. Sheriff Margaret Mims discussed the issue with me, "There is a lot of legal language that is unclear and was very confusing, so I would agree with report where they may have been miscommunication."

The audit recommends court administrators get all the money back, but how remains unclear. Court administrators issued a one page statement and wrote: "It is unfortunate that the court has been over-billed by our fellow justice partner by over $1,000,000. We acknowledge that we could have been more diligent in our scrutiny of these bills, and certainly less trusting."

Sheriff Mims says being forced to repay any money will hurt her fragile budget. Mims said, "A million dollars is basically 10 deputy sheriffs for the sheriff's office. This is still being negotiated." Mims plans to revamp how she staffs the courthouse to avoid future problems.

Court administrators have not said exactly how much money they want the sheriff to repay. The sheriff expects they will come to an agreement, and she hopes her department will have some time to make repayments.

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