State asked to investigate $6,400 in payments to Franklin County prosecutor

·6 min read

Two state agencies are being asked to investigate whether the Franklin County prosecutor intentionally took $6,400.

Requests have been made to The state Attorney General’s Office and the state Auditor’s Office to look at a series of payments made to Prosecutor Shawn Sant for his car.

Sant personally emailed the information to the attorney general’s office, and both the prosecutor and Auditor Matt Beaton asked for the auditor’s office involvement.

This follows a 44-page report that Beaton sent on Tuesday that said his office discovered the prosecutor received “impermissible and unjustified reimbursements.”

He said the prosecutor should have known that he doubled up on the 10 months of payments — four for $620 and six of $656.

“Given the seriousness of these claims, I recommend the matter be sent for outside independent legal review to determine if any charges are appropriate,” Beaton wrote. “The outside review is prudent to avoid any conflict of interest.”

Sant agreed, telling the commissioners during a heated meeting Tuesday night that he had already forwarded Beaton’s report to the Attorney General’s Office, and asked them to pass it on to the state Auditor.

After confirming that he had been overpaid, Sant repaid the money on Tuesday.

“There is nothing nefarious here, and I fully agree. I want the AG’s office to review this. I want the state auditors to review it,” he said.

Commissioner’s reaction

While Sant denied knowing anything about the payments, two commissioners, Rocky Mullen and Clint Didier, appeared incredulous.

“How do you not notice that you are getting double pay?” Mullen asked Sant’s administrative assistant, Kelly Schadler. “

While Didier insisted he wasn’t making any accusations, he called the evidence compelling.

Commissioner Brad Peck said Didier went too far and accused the prosecutor of wrong-doing.

“You’ve slandered the good name of the prosecutor. You’ve slandered an employee,” he said. “I would say as I did earlier, ‘Please be cautious in the words that you choose and the allegations that you make until the investigations have run their course.’”

This is the latest turn in the continuing tensions between the auditor, prosecutor and the commissioners.

An April meeting erupted into an argument when commissioners debated whether Beaton should have to pay for repairs after he hit a county-owned truck in the courthouse parking lot while in his personal vehicle.

In late September, Didier accused Sant of failing to defend the county when he accepted an initial settlement in a voting rights lawsuit.

Vehicle Payments

While many county departments have access to cars, Franklin County offers the prosecutor and the three county commissioners a deal. They can either use a car from the county pool, or the county can pay them a monthly vehicle allowance.

The money is meant to pay for a vehicle and the cost of work-related traveling in the county.

For about 15 years, Schadler, the prosecutor’s administrative assistant, told the commissioners she submitted those costs separately.

The process changed in August 2021, when the commissioners approved a resolution that now automatically added the vehicle allowance, which was $620 a month, to Sant’s paycheck. The amount rose to $656 a month in 2022.

Beaton pointed out that even though the change went into effect, it didn’t stop the prosecutor’s office from submitting the cost in a separate check.

The county auditor’s report says the accounts payable staff processes more than 800 invoices and millions of dollars per month across all of Franklin County, Beaton’s report said.

“The responsibility of auditing and certifying expenses falls to both the creator of the (accounts payable) request and most importantly the ‘approver’ of each allocated budget,” he said. “The (accounts payable) clerk correctly assumes the request submitted is appropriate and audited by the outbound certifier.”

The double payments came to light on June 13 during a budget analysis of accounts payable and payroll auto allowances, Beaton said.

“A thorough audit was completed resulting in a more serious situation,” his report said.

The auditor told the Herald that after it came to light, he tried to figure out if Sant had just made a mistake. He couldn’t find any evidence that it was a mistake.

“Every financial audit is approached with an open investigative process. We neither believe it is intentional nor unintentional. Audits always start with a small oddity in the numbers,” Beaton said. “Then we follow the data. We ask ourselves could it be a mistake? Who should have caught it? How long was it going on? What is the benefactor’s relation to the process? Given Mr. Sant’s position, knowledge and responsibility as the prosecuting attorney we looked hard to see if it was just a mistake, unfortunately, the more we dug the more the troubling the facts were.”

Beaton said Sant reviewed the ordinance, and knew about the change.

“To assess possible confusion over the resolution, we researched and determined none of the three other recipients have requested (an) AP Auto Allowance payment since the resolution was approved,” he said.

‘Slanderous’

Schadler, the person who submitted the expense for Sant, called Beaton’s report “slanderous” during Tuesday night’s Franklin County commissioner meeting.

“I take offense to this,” she said. “I feel very much like I’ve been slandered because I take my job very seriously. I always joke with Shawn that my job is to keep him off of the front page of the Tri-City Herald.”

Schadler said she was never told about the change, and she reached out to auditor’s staff to check if the amounts were correct before submitting the requests.

She also said she never heard anything relating to a problem being discovered until Beaton sent the report.

Sant added that the vehicle allowance was included in the prosecutor’s budget, and no one pointed out that was incorrect.

For his part, Sant said he wasn’t aware that the money had been added to his paycheck. The additional payments came in at the same time of year when his taxes normally drop.

While pay stubs are normally available digitally, Sant said he doesn’t have any reason to log into the system and check them.

He first learned about the extra payments on Tuesday when Beaton sent him the report, Sant told the Herald. As soon as he learned about the extra payments, he logged into the county’s system and checked his pay stubs.

When he learned about the problem, he paid the county with a cashier’s check. He also sent a letter to John Hillman with the state Attorney General’s Office asking for an investigating into the double payment.

Sant told the Herald he should have caught the problem, and that it was his responsibility. He also provided the Herald with a copy of his email to Hillman and a copy of the cashier’s check he sent.

“(I) will certainly change my practice,” he said.