NC Health Director Indicted by the Attorney General | Navajo County

Navajo County Health Director Jeffery Lee has been charged with multiple offenses for theft and misuse of public funds in connection with spending more than $ 90,000 on credit cards issued by Navajo and Coconino counties over a period of seven years .

The Arizona Attorney General has charged Lee with 16 offenses allegedly related to his use of Coconino and Navajo counties credit cards to pay for personal items such as gift cards, Christmas presents, hotels, meals, and other expenses, while making false statements for the expenses . He previously paid back some of the money, indicating that he mistakenly used the wrong credit card for the expense.

An investigation by an auditor general detailed the misuse of public funds and the misrepresentation of the county’s accounting systems to cover up spending. The report also criticized Navajo and Coconino counties for lax accounting practices. The report found that none of the counties required consistently detailed receipts to secure spending on the county’s credit cards. The counties also do not require approval of the claimed expenses from other officials.

A number of reforms were recommended in the Auditor General’s report to tighten controls over officials’ spending, particularly when it comes to the use of credit cards – including the requirement for individual receipts.

Navajo County put Lee on administrative vacation this week “pending further investigation,” said a press release in response to a query from the Independent.

The move comes as the Navajo County Health Department begins receiving the first vaccines for COVID-19, which it is distributing as part of one of the most ambitious and intricate mass vaccination campaigns in the country’s history. Lee has become a familiar figure at board meetings that provide dire information about the region’s rising caseload during the pandemic. The county health department plays an important role in testing and contact tracing, as well as delivering supplies and tests to overwhelmed medical facilities.

Glenn Kephart, Navajo County manager, said Tuesday: “We want to reassure our residents and partners that the Navajo County Health Department will continue to provide high quality and much-needed services without interruption. Our focus is on protecting public health and we have a highly skilled and experienced team that will continue our strong network of community partnerships. “

Lee did not respond to an email request for comment.

Lee joined Navajo County in 2017. He was previously the director of Coconino County’s Public Health Emergency Management program. He also worked in emergency aid for the federal government. He previously worked for the US Air Force as crew chief for a decade and maintained F-16 fighter jets at Luke Air Force Base in the valley.

He holds a BA in Public Safety and Emergency Management from Grand Canyon University and a Masters in Public Administration from Grand Canyon University and a Masters of Science in Emergency Management from Walden University.

The Auditor General’s report includes detailed transactions from 2013 indicating frequent use of county credit cards for personal effects. Lee allegedly failed to provide receipts for most of the alleged expenses and, in some cases, misrepresented what he spent the money on, investigators said.

Investigators found that in both counties, the investigation “consisted primarily of investigations, observations, reviews of selected financial and other records, and selected tests of internal controls.” However, the investigation was limited and “not conducted in accordance with generally accepted US auditing standards” and therefore likely not “detected all misused public funds.” Therefore, the investigators in both districts did not comment on the effectiveness of internal controls.

At each meeting, Navajo County regulators approve many pages of checks that are made monthly, often costing millions of dollars. The list of controls on the Consent Agenda does not generally contain information on the purpose of the expenditure. The board generally does not approve credit card statements. The county’s general fund budget is approximately $ 43 million per year – roughly $ 400 for each of the county’s 111,000 residents. Spending for all county funds and special districts is $ 121 million – or $ 1,100 per inhabitant.

Limited investigation by the Auditor General’s office documented Lee’s frequent use of the county credit card to make a variety of purchases, many of which were undocumented

In Coconino County, from July 2013 to April 2017, examiners concluded that Lee made 237 personal purchases totaling US $ 82,550 while recording incorrect descriptions in the software program to “hide his actions.”

The same thing happened in Navajo County, investigators said. “Mr. Lee allegedly continued this unlawful practice in Navajo County … Navajo County officials determined that from August 2017 to March 2020, Mr. Lee made 135 purchases totaling $ 9,148 with no record of using his Navajo County purchase card Assistance and / or public assistance has been requested and reimbursed. Of these 135 Navajo County purchases, we have determined that Mr. Lee allegedly recorded incorrect information in Navajo County’s accounting software for 6 personal purchases totaling $ 1,762 to hide his actions. “

The investigation apparently began in Coconino County and prompted investigators to review Lee’s purchases during his first three years in Navajo County. The report found that after the irregularities were discovered, Navajo County took Lee’s credit card away, but he continued to serve as the county’s health director.

Personal items paid for with a county credit card in Coconino County included gift cards, family cell phone services and accessories, clothing and decals with Lee’s personal business logo printed on them, camping products, appliances, tools, electronics, an Apple Watch and Beats headphones and weight loss supplements.

Approximately 40 of the 237 issues questioned were made on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, over the weekend, or during Lee’s vacation. Other purchases were delivered to his home, including a clothes dryer, 14-foot freezer, scout camera, and hunting backpack.

Lee submitted incorrect and misleading descriptions for all 237 articles, investigators said. For example, he said the $ 728 total of 14 monthly payments to a Flagstaff RV and boat storage facility were for emergency supplies storage when he was actually storing a 27-foot trailer.

When he got to Navajo County, it seemed like it was even easier to abuse the county’s credit card. From August 2017 to March 2020, he made 135 questionable purchases but only had to misrepresent the total of $ 1,762 purchases on six occasions.

“In particular, Mr. Lee noted on the accounting software statements that he wrote a reimbursement check for using the wrong card when paying for a cellular operator, restaurant, and contributing to a person’s monument. However, Mr. Lee did not provide these refund checks until almost a year later when district officials requested them because they discovered the personal purchases and incorrect information described above. “

State investigators criticized the county’s accounting and supervisory procedures.

Both counties have already made some changes.

Coconino County now requires detailed receipts for credit card purchases or refunds. In addition, the county has hired an internal auditor who checks the credit card purchases of the individual departments annually, worth one month.

Navajo County has updated its credit card policies to include guidelines for auditors on how to deal with abuse, disciplinary action and refunds, the Auditor General’s report said.

However, the auditors recommended additional measures, including:

• Adopt written guidelines that require detailed receipts for all credit card purchases.

• Offer annual training on purchasing and credit cards, and encourage trained staff to “document their understanding in writing”.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other issues for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach out to him at [email protected]

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