Grand Jury report blasts county
A Douglas County employee, who reported concerns with the vehicle maintenance department and requested an internal audit, received a letter of reprimand instead, the Douglas County Grand Jury report revealed on Wednesday.
A year after the first report that as much as $1 million in tires were stolen from the county, the Douglas County Grand Jury revealed its investigation into the thefts.
Vehicle Maintenance Director Chris Oakden sold tires to county employees who didn’t realize he was obtaining them using county funds, grand jurors revealed in the report they released on Wednesday night.
Oakden was killed in a head-on collision in April 2017.
“The deputies, other county employees, and members of the public believed that Mr. Oakden was operating a private business, when in fact he was using Douglas County funds to purchase tires and supplies while pocketing payments from those individuals,” the report states.
In their reports, grand jurors said if the whistleblower policy in effect in the county at the time had been followed, it was possible the theft would have stopped sooner than March 2017.
County Manager Larry Werner said he is preparing a detailed response to the Douglas County Grand Jury Report.
“I’ve read it and am forming thoughts, but generally I feel comfortable in saying that many of the recommendations have already been put in place or are in the formative stage,” he said. “I will have a detailed response from my prospective in the next week or so to present to the board.”
According to the report, the first problem surfaced a decade ago when a complaint was made but not pursued.
“The second notice of a problem was made by a whistleblower in 2012,” the report said. “The grand jury received testimony that an investigation, initiated by human resources, was inexplicably stopped by top management almost immediately.”
Vicki Moore, who was an accountant in the finance department in 2013, questioned the excessive expenditures on tires, according to the grand jury. Moore resigned on Tuesday, according to the county.
Grand jurors learned that Moore’s supervisor directed her to perform an internal audit.
“The audit did not occur because there was not time available,” Moore told grand jurors.
She testified that the same concerns were noted in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
“The audit never happened because the financial department was just too busy and short-staffed to complete the audit of fleet services.”
Grand jurors said they believe that County Manager Steve Mokrohisky, Chief Financial Officer Christine Vuletich, Accounting Operations Supervisor Kathy Bradshaw and Moore “failed the county and citizens when they chose not to conduct an audit in a department that was consistently, year after year, generating excessive and unjustified expenditures.”
Oakden received a letter of reprimand from the public works director after a District Attorney’s Office inquiry in 2012.
“That seemingly did not deter Mr. Oakden from his activities,” the report said. “He used his position to manipulate the computer system in vehicle maintenance and remove simple inventory controls.”
Grand jurors found that Oakden moved his activities off-site, with some of the purchases never making it to any county facility.
“Instead he used his personal vehicle to drive them as far as Sacramento, and then sold them to private individuals,” the report said.
Oakden had the ability to order, approve, purchase and receive inventory, “even when such inventory had no possible use on any county vehicle.”
It wasn’t until early 2017, when a whistleblower came forward with detailed concerns regarding the motor pool that the embezzlement was exposed.
More than 400 commercial truck tires that didn’t fit any county vehicles were purchased during 2016-17.
Parallel investigations are being conducted into the thefts by the Nevada Department of Investigation and the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office.
In late September, the county reported the thefts were uncovered in March 2017.
Grand jury deliberations were confidential until the report came out on Wednesday night.
The grand jury first convened in January 2017.
Jurors conducted civil investigations into county government, including investigating misconduct by public officers; the condition and management of the county jail; and matters affecting the health and welfare of the county.
Jurors have the power of subpoena, may compel testimony, hear evidence in secret and may indict to initiate criminal prosecution of crimes within the county.
The last grand jury report to be submitted in Douglas was in 2008. Nevada counties with fewer than 100,000 people are not required to call a grand jury every four years.