Manatee clerk's office starts investigation of possible embezzlement at sheriff's office

MANATEE -- The Manatee clerk's office Thursday opened an investigation of possible embezzlement of money from the inmate commissary fund at the Manatee County jail.

Sheriff Brad Steube requested the investigation this week after Charles Smith, head of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, wrote a letter detailing possible wrongdoing in the sheriff's office and at the jail.

Clerk of the Circuit Court R.B. "Chips" Shore announced the start of the probe on Thursday.

"The scope of this investigation will include examining all activity of the Inmate Commissary Fund and the Inmate Fund Account," Shore wrote in the probe's "investigation plan."

"This will include a review of financial transactions, as well as an examination of internal controls over the activities of the funds," the plan states.

An official with Shore's office said earlier this week an investigation could take a couple of months.

Shore's announcement comes the same day the sheriff's office revealed findings of separate criminal and internal affairs investigations of misuse of county equipment and other resources at the jail and the jail's farm. Two now-retired deputies, former jail supervisor Major James Higginbotham and former Sgt. Buddy Parks, were reprimanded for conduct unbecoming of a deputy, but allegations of "unlawful conduct" were not sustained.

The state attorney's office also chose not to prosecute.

Shore's auditors will examine financial records and supporting documentation, interview current and former employees and observe commissary fund activities, according to the plan.

Depending what they find, the investigation could be expanded.

"If the investigation identifies additional concerns outside of the original scope, Internal Audit reserves the right to expand the existing scope, and if necessary, coordinate with outside agencies in conjunction with the sheriff's office," the plan states.

Shore was not able start an investigation until receiving an invitation from Steube since the sheriff's office is an independent agency.