MANATEE -- County government auditors are reviewing reports of possible embezzlement at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, officials said Tuesday.
Auditors began a review after Charles B. Smith, chairman of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter, last week sent Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore a letter stating that a criminal complaint filed late last year with the sheriff's office listed several accusations against current and former personnel.
The allegations include embezzlement of the inmate commissary fund, theft of evidence and of equipment purchased with county funds, misuse of county funds and the use of sheriff's office equipment for "personal benefit while on duty," the letter states.
Sheriff Brad Steube on Tuesday acknowledged that a complaint was filed anonymously last August and a "criminal and internal investigation" was launched.
Steube would not discuss the investigation but said results will be released later this week.
Smith told the Bradenton Herald he found out about the complaint about five weeks ago.
"I would like to bring attention to troubling concerns regarding the use of taxpayers' funds," the letter begins.
After reading the letter, Shore said he contacted Steube to discuss the possibility of an investigation of the embezzlement claim.
Because the law enforcement agency doesn't fall under the clerk's jurisdiction, investigators must obtain permission from the sheriff's office to conduct the probe.
"We do have an audit every year of all of our operations and all of our monies," Steube said. "Those audits have always been clean."
Steube agreed to the investigation.
"The sheriff is fully cooperative and appreciates our help," Shore said.
The only claim being reviewed by auditors is the alleged embezzlement of the inmate commissary fund, which provides money to whatever needs the inmates may have.
Millie Blevins, director of the clerk's internal audit department, and Tom Salisbury, sheriff's office comptroller, met Tuesday.
"Based on the information that we learn," Blevins said, Shore would then decide whether or not to launch the investigation.
Smith, who is also a Palmetto city commissioner, said the Southern Christian Leadership Conference has contacted the federal government about the claims.
"These issues must be looked at thoroughly by an outside source," Smith said.
Laura C. Morel, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow on Twitter @LauraCMorel.