SPERRY — Mike Fisher, district attorney for Osage County, said Feb. 20 it might be a week or two before he decides whether a criminal investigation is needed in response to findings of a state audit of the Country Corner Fire District.
Fisher commented on the audit findings during a meeting of the board of the Country Corner district. About 25 people attended the board meeting, filling the modest-sized room at the firehouse where it was held. Another half-dozen reportedly gathered outside the building. He said that he was waiting on a couple of additional things from the state Auditor’s office before making a determination.
“I just want to make sure we do this right,” Fisher said. He went on to respond to rumors and suggestions that his office will “sweep” the audit findings “under the rug” to protect the Country Corner fire and EMS operations.
“I have never done that, and I will never do that,” Fisher said, denying that he would ever drop a potential prosecution based on the identity of the potential defendants.
Fisher said he takes the audit findings seriously and he added: “but I’m not going to go on a wild goose chase.”
The office of the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector on Feb. 8 published on its website a report based on an audit of Country Corner finances between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2017. The audit report provided details regarding a number of serious errors committed by the fire district’s leadership. For example, the report says the fire district borrowed in excess of $303,000 in 2014 without holding a required election.
Former district attorney Rex Duncan requested the audit and also drafted a request in late December 2018 for an investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The full audit report had not yet been issued.
Duncan’s request to the OSBI specifically requested the agency to check whether any illegal acts had been committed in connection with three cash withdrawals of fire district funds in 2015 and 2016. Other financial transactions Duncan asked the OSBI to look at included expenditures of fire district funds on Christmas parties, and payments made for telephone service for Country Corner’s fire chief and medical director without documented approval. A financial recordkeeping issue included in the investigation request concerned a lack of documentation for more than $3,600 of purchases.
Duncan also asked the OSBI to review several possible violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act.
Fisher on Feb. 20 characterized Duncan’s investigation request as “overbroad.”
The new district attorney said the OSBI contacted him after his term of office began and told him it had not yet started to investigate the items mentioned in Duncan’s letter. The OSBI asked Fisher how he wanted to proceed.
Fisher said he told the OSBI he wanted to see the full audit report before moving forward. He asked the agency to hold up for the time being.
Fisher also described his office’s response to the audit findings as an ongoing process, about which he is limited in what he can say. He said that he has talked with the Auditor’s office about some of the findings and the Auditor’s office has shared opinions. He said there is general agreement between his office and the Auditor’s office on issues raised in the audit report, but there are some differences of perspective, too.
“We’ve got to make sure that whatever we do, we are doing it for the right reasons,” Fisher said. He said conversations between his office and both the Auditor’s office and the OSBI have turned up skepticism that anyone at Country Corner acted on the basis of criminal malice.
“We all have doubts right now that there’s any criminal culpability,” Fisher said.