Navajo County Health Director charged with theft and fraud, Albuquerque Journal

FLAGSTAFF, Arizona – A former Coconino County official who later oversaw the Navajo County Health Department has been charged with 16 theft, misuse of public funds and fraud, according to court documents.

The indictment announced on Tuesday follows a state investigation that found Jeffrey Lee used the purchase cards issued to him in both counties for personal benefit and falsified information on record. Navajo County said he was put on paid administrative leave Tuesday.

“We want to reassure our residents and community partners that the Navajo County Health Department will continue to provide high quality and much-needed services without interruption,” County Manager Glenn Kephart said in a statement.

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Lee referred The Associated Press to his attorney Ryan Stevens, who on Wednesday said he was still reviewing the documents and declined to comment. Lee is due to appear in court in Flagstaff in January.

Lee worked as the Emergency Preparedness Manager for Coconino County from August 2012 to April 2017 before taking up the position in Navajo County, where accountants claimed he continued to spend public funds on personal items.

According to the audit, Lee used his Coconino County card to purchase $ 82,550 gift cards and spend them on his family’s cell phone services, a clothes dryer, items for his personal home store, and electronics. About 40 of the 237 purchases were made on holidays, weekends, or when Lee was on vacation, according to the audit.

The investigation also revealed that Lee had forged information in the county’s accounting system to create the appearance that the purchases were made for legitimate business of the county. In one case, Lee rented a RV and boat storage space in Flagstaff with funding from Coconino County and used it for a personal trailer, not for the storage of county emergency supplies, he said, according to the audit.

Lee told the auditors that these charges were “errors” and that the county would be reimbursed. County spokesman Eric Peterson said Wednesday Coconino County has no record of this and will seek repayment through the court case.

“If someone misuses public funds, they are personally liable under the law,” he told The Associated Press. “I am not aware of the situation of any other party other than the county taxpayers who have been victims of these purchases.”

In Navajo County, Lee reimbursed $ 9,148 after saying he used the “wrong card” to pay a wireless operator, pay a restaurant bill, and contribute to a memorial. However, the audit found that Lee did not do so until the county officials demanded the repayment after discovering that the purchases were not for the county business and Lee had falsified information.

Navajo County spokesman Bryan Layton said the charges were identified during an annual audit in early 2020. Lee was forced to surrender the credit card and repay the money, and was put on unpaid vacation for five days. The county had no knowledge of the investigation into Lee’s purchase in Coconino County at the time, he said.

“In isolation, at the time, we didn’t think the policy violations warrant a termination,” Layton told The Associated Press.

Coconino County filed for state scrutiny in September 2017 after it found questionable expenses in completing a public record application, Peterson said. The state audit also criticized the fact that the counties did not have adequate controls to check the credit cards issued to employees. Coconino County, for example, did not require Lee to list receipts and pay for transactions without verifying them, accountants wrote.

Counties said they had strengthened their processes, but the auditor’s report said they could do more to protect public funds.

Coconino County Manager James Jayne said annual training guidelines and detailed receipts are expected to be finalized early next year.

“Coconino County is very careful about the use of public funds,” he said in a statement.

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