Cops under investigation oversaw maligned jail fund

2011-06-25T22:30:00Z 2011-09-22T14:20:05Z Cops under investigation oversaw maligned jail fundBy Christine Kraly, (219) 852-3030

Two Lake County sheriff's officers named as targets in a federal investigation oversaw a department discretionary fund that went nearly unchecked in the past several years.

A source close to the department has suggested commissary cash generated by snacks and toiletries sold to inmates may have been used to buy department guns. Federal investigators are believed to be focusing on questionable gun sales by county officers.

Lake County Lt. Michael Reilly and Sgt. Joseph Kumstar were listed as point people for the commissary fund in state audits dating to at least 2007.

For the first time in several delinquent years, the Sheriff's Department is set to deliver a report on commissary spending to the Lake County Council in the coming days.

For at least the past five years, the department has failed to properly detail commissary spending, prompting consistently critical audits from the State Board of Accounts.

Who was watching?

Last month, Sheriff John Buncich placed the following six officers on administrative leave, announcing each was the subject of an ongoing federal case: Reilly, Kumstar, Capt. Marco Kuyachich and Officers Ronald Slusser, Edward Kabella and Scott Shelhart.

None of the officers has been charged with any crime, and Kuyachich has threatened to sue if his name is not cleared by the department.

How, and with what money, the department supplies its large cadre of guns goes largely unchecked, as does how it spends its commissary fund, a Times investigation has revealed.

Kumstar and Reilly dealt with auditors in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to address ways to fix commissary-fund inconsistencies.

Multiple state audits dating back to at least 2004 have cited the department's failure to provide accurate -- or any --  fund statements.

A November 2009 audit chided: "No individual in the Sheriff's Department appears to have the responsibility of monitoring the fiscal activity or recordkeeping for the Sheriff's Department."

State records show that in August 2009, after years of not providing needed records, Reilly and Kumstar tried to submit documents but missed the audit deadline.

Kumstar's Griffith attorney, Matthew Fech, declined to comment when contacted by The Times recently.

In an audit released in January, auditors noted more than $86,000 in commissary expenses didn't meet state guidelines.

In 2009, the department responded to a poor audit by assigning Reilly "full responsibility for monitoring all fiscal activity and recordkeeping."

Neither Reilly nor former Sheriff Roy Dominguez responded to Times' calls seeking comment.

When the 2009 audit noted the department failed to issue required tax forms for work done with commissary cash, the sheriff reminded auditors state law allowed him to pay vendors with the fund without a formal contract.

Buncich's attorney, John Bushemi, had not responded to a Times request for recent commissary records as of press time for this article.

Lake County Auditor Peggy Katona confirmed her office, the keeper of most county records, has no authority over commissary activity.

What are the rules?

State law allows the sheriff sole -- and vast -- discretion in how to spend commissary fund money collected from inmate telephone calls and jail store purchases.

Without a Lake County Council appropriation, the sheriff may spend the money on a wide variety of purposes -- ranging from special law enforcement training to programs aimed at stemming substance or child abuse.

The sheriff is required by law to submit reports to the council twice a year.

But former councilman and county financial consultant Larry Blanchard said that law had not been followed.

"We never received any reports," Blanchard said. "I can't really say what was purchased was good or bad because I really don't know.

"When I was on the council, my own feelings were that they were tax dollars" and should be monitored, he said. "The majority of council thought the law should be changed a little, so there's some oversight by the fiscal body."

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