Missing funds prompt investigation in Sheriff's Office

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
The State Bureau of Investigation is probing possible embezzlement at the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, county officials said Monday.
Meanwhile, a secretary who worked for Sheriff George Wilhelm has been placed on paid administrative leave.
County officials did not directly link the secretary’s leave and the investigation. But Arnold Chamberlain, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, confirmed late Monday that there is an ongoing criminal investigation and an employee is involved, which makes it a personnel matter.
Leslie Heidrick, interim county manager, said Monday evening that she and Wilhelm have spoken with District Attorney Bill Kenerly regarding a “potential issue in the Sheriff’s Office.” Heidrick said the SBI is involved.
Heidrick declined to disclose other details related to the investigation, including how much may be missing.
Heidrick said it will likely take several weeks to complete the investigation.
Wilhelm said he noticed discrepancies in department funds. He went to Heidrick and the county did an audit.
The sheriff said he doesn’t know how much money is missing, but “it’s suspicious enough to go to the SBI.”
Wilhelm said the reason his secretary, Kathy (Hudgins) Burnett was placed on leave is because she does the deposits. “While she is out, they can look at everything,” he said.
Burnett was placed on leave at 11 a.m. March 25 by Wilhelm. She was reportedly escorted from the building.
Burnett has worked for the Sheriff’s Office since Oct. 16, 1996. She has served as Wilhelm’s secretary for the past several years. Previously, she worked in the Detention Center. Her current annual salary is $32,299.
Wilhelm said several other employees in his department handle cash that comes from various fees and judgements.
Attempts to reach Burnett were unsuccessful. A phone number listed in Salisbury has been disconnected.It is unclear whether the possible embezzlement involves cash or funds in some other form.
After repeated suggestion from auditors, the county created a new position and hired an internal auditor several months ago.
The internal auditor’s job is to track the handling of cash in all county departments and make sure procedures are in place for safeguarding it.
Heidrick, who is also county finance director, said the internal auditor has looked at cash procedures at several county departments but hasn’t made it to the Sheriff’s Office and some other departments.Heidrick said the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t disburse any funds and doesn’t have a separate checking account.
She said the Sheriff’s Office and nearly every other county department handles cash. Under current procedures, the cash is deposited into a county account and the deposit slips are sent to the finance office.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette @salisburypost.com.