Nienhuis Under Fire for Allegedly Hiding Funds During Budget Hearings, Former Employee Says It was Intentional
HERNANDO – Just when we thought the drama was finally over between Sheriff Al Nienhuis and the Board of County Commissioners – think again. Over the last few months, new developments have emerged that may point the finger at Sheriff Al Nienhuis for what some have referred to as fraudulent activity. You may recall several heated debates between Nienhuis and the BOCC that led citizens to believe that commissioners were anti-law enforcement for questioning specific details of the Sheriff’s budget proposals. Now it seems the tables have turned, after a complaint was filed by the former third in command with HCSO, Maj. James Terry, who was recently “let go” during a shake up between top officials last April.
RNRF received information on April 6th that then-Maj. James Terry was escorted off HCSO property, after a dispute between his commanding officers. Spokesperson Denise Maloney told RNRF on July 6th that Terry was placed on administrative leave but that there were no allegations of criminal wrong-doing. She would not elaborate on the details of the dispute.
Terry alleges in his complaint, filed June 26th, that Nienhuis intentionally hid $1.3 million, collected from the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the U.S. Marshals Service to house federal inmates. Terry states, “I attended a meeting where in it was discussed between the comptroller and Sheriff Nienhuis that the Sheriff’s Office had $1.3 million dollars in an account from federal inmate revenue. The Sheriff said he did not want the County to know about it, or to turn it over. The Comptroller recommended moving it to an account, stating the county would not see it there. The Sheriff agreed. I expressed my concern about it to Col. Maurer on more than one occasion. The money was purposely hidden from the County Commission.” Terry recommended in this complaint that the BOCC review the funds collected and appeal to the Governor’s Office. Terry says Brian Moyer and Sheriff’s Office Attorney Joel Fritton have knowledge of the activity.Shortly after the announcement of Terry’s resignation, the Sheriff’s Office released several memos describing incidents they say led to his suspension. On April 4th, 2017 Terry was notified of his administrative leave with pay. Memos released on April 4th suggested that Terry made fun of Captain Jim Powers, calling him a “Uncle Fester M***er F***er.” A second incident involved Terry interfering with a SWAT operation that could have compromised the safety of other deputies. Several other memos were released after his dismissal from the Sheriff’s Office, listing unprofessional behavior over the course of his tenure with the agency. But none of those incidents led to disciplinary action until after Terry’s alleged accusations that Nienhuis was hiding money.
We tried to reach out to Terry for comment but now that has accepted a position with the County, as the Animal Services Manager, Administrators have asked that he no longer speak with the media.
On June 21st, I asked Denise Moloney to explain the budget issues pertaining to the undisclosed $1.3 million and she replied, “The Sheriff’s Office has special revenue funds (as does the county). These are separate “restricted” funds and can be found in our audited financial statements which are available on our website.” Moloney further stated, “Budgets for the SPFs are approved by a budget resolution signed by the Sheriff, not the BOCC.”
But what has some residents and member of the BOCC up in arms is the lack of transparency on the part of Sheriff Nienhius. Amid pressure from the community and the Sheriff’s Office appeal to the Governor’s Office to release the $1.7 million they say was needed to fulfill their annual budget, the BOCC set forth a compromise during a March 28th board meeting and relinquished $1.26 million to the HCSO. But that decision was announced based on the lack of knowledge that HCSO had an undisclosed reserve of $1.3 million, which could have been used during budget negotiations. Instead, some commissioners felt the Sheriff “played” the BOCC by alleging the BOCC was “anti-law enforcement.” Commissioner Steve Champion questioned the Nienhuis during a recent budget meeting as did Commissioner Wayne Dukes. But Nienhuis says he included the special revenue fund as part of his budget proposal. Dukes says he never saw it and requested the documentation again.
I spoke to Wayne Dukes last week who said, “I was extremely concerned by the news. He [Nienhuis] always talks about transparency.” Dukes further stated, “I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not going away.”
Commissioner Steve Champion tells RNRF, “I’m concerned about HCSO not reporting these funds to the public last year and this year. Our lawyers tell me it’s illegal and bottom line we need to get all accounting in line with state statute and continue to execute the original agreement set forth by former Sheriff Rich Nugent and the BOCC, back in 2010.”
Commissioner John Allocco returned our call but stated, “I’ll withhold comment at this time, as it’s too early to make a decision without all the facts.”
It should be noted that immediately after news broke of the controversy, Sheriff Al Nienhuis released a statement and posted a video praising his agency for raising $2-million from the Federal Inmate Housing Program. (CLICK HERE FOR Facebook Video)
All eyes will be focused on this Tuesday’s BOCC meeting where once again Commissioner and Sheriff Al Nienhuis will go head-to-head over what is becoming a never-ending battle of “Show me the money.”
The meeting will be held this Tuesday, July 11th at 9:00 a.m at John Law Ayers County Commission
Chambers, Room 160.
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