Former Orange County Sheriff faces scrutiny over shoddy accounting

Published: Jun. 27, 2023 at 5:43 PM EDT
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CHELSEA, Vt. (WCAX) - The former Orange County sheriff’s accounting practices are facing scrutiny. Vermont’s state auditor says former sheriff Bill Bohnyak left behind a financial mess including inaccurate book-keeping, questionable use of bank loans, and unsound management of assets.

Former Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak’s books are under the microscope.

A transitional audit found that a loan of $225,000 which was intended to upgrade buildings, went to vehicles, bonuses, uniforms, and other non-building expenses.

Vermont Auditor Doug Hoffer says other financial problems were so bad that auditors couldn’t finish the job. However, he adds it’s unlikely it will rise to civil or criminal charges. “Nevertheless, it’s not in the interest of taxpayers and the citizens of Orange County. Yet how can we hold former Sheriff Bohnyak accountable?” Hoffer said.

Bohnyak declined an interview but said he contests some of the auditor’s findings and that he would be putting out a statement in the coming days.

Bohnyak lost his election this spring to current sheriff George Contois, who spent Tuesday in court providing security for a jury trial and was not available for an interview.

Back in March, Contois told WCAX he wanted to improve the department. “I saw a lot of deficiencies and I thought that perhaps I could change that, and of course, I’m not able to change much because we have no manpower,” he said.

The accounting discrepancies come as Vermont lawmakers passed a law this session aimed at holding sheriffs accountable.

“We needed to dive into this to understand how we could have better oversight of these elected positions that are also a quasi-financial enterprise at the same time,” said Rep. Matt Birong, D-Vergennes.

The Association of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs will now add a director of sheriff operations who will help the 14 sheriffs’ offices have better accounting practices.

Bohnyak’s accounting is just the latest incident in a string of allegations against sheriffs stemming from assault to misconduct. “They are only subject to an election, or in the most extreme example, an impeachment process,” Birong said.

The sheriffs are constitutionally elected officials that receive some state funds but have to be majority-funded through independent contracts.

“Who is in a position to insist that the sheriffs comply with a set of sensible policies? Because they are independent constitutional officers, we don’t have an answer to that just yet,” Hoffer said.

Lawmakers last session also made headway on a proposed constitutional amendment providing more oversight and accountability for county officials, but that measure after it is approved will require several years to make it into the books.

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