State investigating allegations brought forward during audit
By Sarah Pridgeon
Whether or not actions taken by County Treasurer Mary Kuhl rise to the level of criminal or civil prosecution is a question that will now be tackled by the Attorney General’s Office. The County Commissioners passed a resolution last week designating the state’s top law office as special prosecutor in any investigations into the matter.
In December, Paul Stille of auditors Leo Riley & Associates pointed to the Treasurer’s Office as a source of noncompliant practices that appear to violate the Wyoming Constitution.
“We noted numerous instances where auto tags and plates and sales tax certificates were issued prior to the payment being received or, in some cases, the taxpayer was allowed to postdate a check or the office held the check to cover the required fee,” said the annual audit report.
The audit further noted that the majority of the taxpayers to whom credit had been extended were “people who paid a lot of taxes and have a lot of employees” and recorded one instance in which Kuhl had issued a vehicle registration to herself that remained unpaid for around a month.
The resolution passed by the commissioners notes that the County Attorney’s Office has flagged a potential conflict of interest in any review, investigation or prosecution that results from these findings due to a “statutory obligation to represent and advise the County Treasurer in pending and other civil matters”.
According to the resolution, the commissioners feel it is in the best interests of both the county and the treasurer to have a separate and independent review of the audit results and any related matters to determine whether there were any violations of law versus accounting standards.
“The Attorney General has agreed to conduct an investigation,” it says, authorizing that office to act as a special prosecutor in any action it deems advisable.
The commissioners also signed a letter to be included with the final audit, part of which addresses the findings within Kuhl’s office. The letter points to actions taken by the county to fix the issue highlighted by the auditors, including a resolution passed last month regarding “negotiable paper” transactions and new procedures for handling dishonored checks.
“We are relying on the Public Funds Division of the Wyoming Department of Audit, who will review the contract auditor’s findings for compliance with the Constitution and state law,” says the letter.
A spokesperson for the Public Funds Division states that an investigation is not underway within that office, but that this is not unexpected. Whether the office will be asked to participate will depend on what the investigating party wants, because such a review tends to be kept as local as possible.
The Sheriff’s Office received a request to perform an investigation into the matter several months ago. Due to the working relationship between the county offices, this was immediately turned over to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation to address any concerns of a potential conflict of interest.
The DCI investigation into the matter is ongoing.
Editor’s Note: The Sundance Times sent a formal request to Kuhl for the letter she told this newspaper she had sent to the commissioners in January, which she stated had addressed the allegations. Though state open records statutes require a response within seven days, we received neither the letter nor an explanation as to why producing it would not be possible.