MANATEE -- The Manatee County Sheriff's Office today will release results of an investigation looking into several possible criminal allegations against the agency.
Although the probe began late last year, its existence came to light this week after Charles B. Smith, chairman of the local Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter, sent Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore a letter stating that claims of criminal activity by current and former personnel had been brought to the sheriff's office.
The allegations include embezzlement of the inmate commissary fund, theft of equipment purchased with county funds, misuse of county funds and using sheriff's office equipment for "personal benefit while on duty," the letter states.
The sheriff's office investigation began in August. Sheriff Brad Steube declined comment Wednesday.
Earlier this week, Shore spoke with Steube about conducting a probe on 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.
Steube agreed to the investigation. Millie Blevins, director of the clerk's internal audit department, and Tom Salisbury, sheriff's office comptroller, met Tuesday to discuss the claim.
The only allegation being reviewed by auditors is the alleged embezzlement
of the inmate commissary fund, which provides money to whatever needs the inmates may have.
Blevins said the sheriff's office was "fully cooperative" during the meeting. She must now meet with Shore about the findings. The Manatee County clerk makes the final decision on whether or not to pursue the investigation.
Shore and Blevins are scheduled to meet Thursday morning.If Shore approves the investigation, it will take a few months to complete.
Although auditors needed permission to review the claim, Blevins said Steube "doesn't have a say" as to what information they access.
"We can look at whatever we want in regards to the commissary fund," Blevins said.
Auditors will review documents, conduct interviews and visit the jail.
Once the investigation is complete, a report -- which will be public record -- will be sent to Shore and the sheriff's office.
"It's up to them to incorporate whatever recommendations that we make," Blevins said.
On Wednesday, Charles Smith, the writer of the letter, said he was "glad to hear" investigation results will be released.
Smith said he knew about the sheriff's office investigation. But when he heard through sources that one of the sheriff's office employees allegedly linked to the claims recently retired, he decided to write the letter.
The letter, dated March 29, names two sheriff's office personnel. The Bradenton Herald is not naming anyone until charges, either criminal or internal, are released.
"The intention of my letter is to drive this to the public domain so that everyone could be held accountable," Smith said.