MACHIAS, Maine — The supervisor of the Washington County Jail and the jail’s clerk have been suspended pending the results of an investigation into possible misuse of jail funds, according to Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith.
Capt. Robert Gross, who has overseen the county’s jail operations for many years, and Jail Clerk Sgt. Karina Richardson were suspended with pay this week while authorities investigate discrepancies in the jail’s inmate benefit account, Smith said Friday.
That account collects and disburses funds deposited by jail inmates or others on their behalf to purchase telephone time, cable TV services, snacks, stationery, stamps and other approved commissary items.
“It looks from my preliminary investigation, and I’m not a financial guy, that this has been going on for many years and may involve thousands of dollars,” Smith told The Bangor Daily News Friday morning. “I’m working with the county treasurer on this, and we are bringing in an independent investigator.”
The investigator, Waterville attorney Peter Marchesi, is a former attorney for Washington County. Marchesi could not be reached to comment Friday morning. Nor could Gross or Richardson, who Smith said both reside in East Machias.
Smith said the state’s Department of Corrections did an audit of the 48-bed jail’s finances in 2011 and determined then that the handling of the inmate benefit account was “in compliance.”
“It’s hard to believe that 2011 audit didn’t find something because, when I looked at it, the whole thing didn’t look right to me,” he said. “I’m not saying these two people are guilty of anything. The reason we provide suspension with pay is that we want to preserve what we have, and they’re not out anything while we look into this further. At this point this is a moving target.”
Smith said he has notified the office of the Maine Attorney General about the situation.
Smith said Friday he briefed Chris Gardner, the chairman of the county’s Board of Commissioners, on the situation. Gardner said Friday the board has scheduled a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, to discuss the ongoing investigation.
“The commissioners applaud the sheriff’s efforts to look into this,” Gardner told The Bangor Daily News. “We stand by his willingness to get to the bottom of this. I know very little of the specifics, beyond what the sheriff told me by phone and some investigative materials I was provided.”
Gardner said he expects both Gross and Richardson will attend the Jan. 3 meeting. He also expects that, as a personnel issue, the meeting to be closed to the public.
Smith recently suspended another jail employee, Troy Lyons, 39, of Lubec, who had worked at the county jail as a corrections officer for 12 years and had recently been promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Lyons claimed he was injured during an Oct. 29 assault behind the jail facility and was treated for cuts, bruises and other injuries that night at Down East Community Hospital in Machias.
Smith suspended Lyons with pay after an in-house investigation concluded that the multiple injuries for which Lyons was treated were self-inflicted. Lyons has denied that allegation.
Last week, just hours before a termination hearing before the Board of Commissioners, Lyons resigned.
Smith said this week’s suspension of two top jail officials couldn’t have happened at a worse time, given the recent loss of Lyons and other sheriff’s department staff being away from work on long-scheduled holiday vacations.