Taxpayer money meant to protect Wyoming from terrorist attacks and natural disasters instead helped pay for a take-home vehicle for the undersheriff of the Laramie County Sheriff's Office and was used by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation to pay for neighborhood drug activity surveillance cameras, a federal audit shows.
The nearly $400,000 of spending was improper and unrelated to terrorist attack protection efforts, and it wasn't properly overseen by the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security, according to the audit from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, which examined state grant management from 2010 to 2012.
The state Office of Homeland Security also failed to make sure those who needed money the most received it, and the office didn't develop targets for security preparedness improvement, the DHS inspector general also found.
Hence, the Wyoming office -- a state agency -- wasn't properly holding law enforcement and other agencies to account for how they spent federal grants.
The state office "did not spend ... grant funds effectively to address the state's and local jurisdictions' risks and preparedness needs associated with terrorism and other catastrophic disasters," the audit stated.
The improper spending tabulated by the report totaled $393,752 out of the $15 million in Homeland Security Program grants distributed in Wyoming from 2010 to 2012 as part of a federal initiative to beef up local communities' emergency preparedness in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Such spending in Wyoming peaked in 2010, at $6.61 million, but slid to nearly half that total, $2.8 million, in 2012.
The inspector general targeted the following spending as improper:
- $211,942: Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy -- accounting of pay hours
- $115,004: Albany County -- siren notification system, emergency management coordinator salary
- $25,904: Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation -- neighborhood drug activity surveillance cameras
- $15,866: Laramie County Sheriff's Office -- take-home vehicle
- $15,185: Laramie County Community College -- scholarship program
- $9,851: Wyoming Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides -- computers, voice recorders
In a written response to the audit, the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security largely agreed with the inspector general's findings and said it is working to implement a stronger grant tracking system and renew a state homeland security strategy in cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The inspector general said the state and FEMA still weren't doing enough to set measurable preparedness goals for those who receive grant money.
The DHS inspector general conducted the audit between May and August 2013. It didn't respond to a Star-Tribune request for comment Friday.
In its response to the audit, Wyoming promised that within six months of the report's February publish date, it will implement a way to monitor fund usage.
State Office of Homeland Security spokeswoman Kelly Ruiz said the office has been working with grant recipients and FEMA to answer questions brought up by the audit and has made a lot of progress gathering needed information.
This is the first audit the office has received from the federal department's inspector general, she said.
"All in all, we're comfortable," she said. "It's always good to get your practices reviewed and make sure you're on the right path -- as uncomfortable as that may be."
The Laramie County Sheriff's Office spent $15,866 toward purchasing a sport-utility vehicle used as a take-home car, one not equipped for law enforcement use, according to the audit.
Federal rules allow grant money to be spent on general-purpose law enforcement vehicles, but a take-home vehicle doesn't qualify.
The vehicle, a small Ford SUV, is the take-home vehicle of Undersheriff Richard Hillegas, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Gerry Luce. At the time of the audit, the vehicle was on the list of vehicles destined to get "uploaded," or equipped with lights and sirens and other law enforcement equipment.
Hillegas is a certified law enforcement officer and would be equipped to answer calls as a first responder, Luce emphasized, even when the vehicle wasn't yet fully equipped.
The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation spent $25,904 on surveillance camera equipment for neighborhood drug activity, according to the audit. Such spending does nothing to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack.
A message left for DCI on Friday wasn't returned. Ruiz, the state homeland security office spokeswoman, said that to her knowledge, the situation had been "resolved," but she couldn't add any details.
Albany County spent $115,004 in grant funding to pay for a new siren system, but the state homeland security office didn't review the purchase as required, according to the audit.
The county also paid $8,788 in grant money toward the salary of its emergency management coordinator, which is against federal rules for how much of grant money can pay for salaries.
The county was short funds to pay for the coordinator, and the state office said it was willing to help, said Albany County Commission Chairman Tim Sullivan.
"We sat down and talked to them, and they made that concession that they would help us with the salary," he said.
About half the improperly spent grant money, $211,942, was paid to Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy personnel working with multiple grants without proper accounting of their hours, according to the audit.
Academy officials directed questions to the state homeland security office.
Laramie County Community College received $15,866 between 2010 and 2012 for a scholarship program for students who attended homeland security classes. The scholarship was started in the 2005 fiscal year.
The Office of the Inspector General said such spending was improper because grant funds were paying for students of a variety of majors to take the class.
The funds were meant to pay, for example, to educate first responders, those with homeland security or criminal justice majors, and others with a professional reason to gain new knowledge, the inspector general said.
The state homeland security office disagreed that the spending was improper and said the federal homeland security agency was aware of the spending.
Ty Stockton, spokesman for LCCC, said that in the wake of the federal audit, the program instructor and dean overseeing the classes readjusted their curriculum to better fit the funding for what Stockton said is really a tuition assistance program.
"They've already worked with the Wyoming Office of Homeland Security to get that worked out, so things have changed," he said.
The Wyoming Board of Outfitters and Professional Guides spent $9,581 in grant money for computers and digital voice recorders to "support hunting-related activities associated with the agency's mission," according to the audit. Such spending didn't prevent or prepare for terrorist attacks, the inspector general said.
The state office was contacted before equipment was purchased to make sure it was covered by grant money, Jane Flagg, the board's administrator, wrote in a Monday email. The board told the state office that the board peace officers are criminal investigators, she wrote.