Employees at a southern Ohio correctional facility stole equipment, blew money on booze, hotels and a strip club and forged receipts, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
A special audit of STAR Community Justice Center, a community corrections program serving southern Ohio, uncovered $20,090 in improper spending by 11 directors and employees, including trips to conferences in Las Vegas, Reno, Orlando and Pittsburgh.
The facility is near the Ohio River, southeast of Portsmouth. STAR is funded with state money, but it’s operated by an independent board.
“These employees used conferences as a cover for their self-indulgent vacations,” said Ohio Auditor Dave Yost in a written release. “While the amounts may not be the highest we’ve seen, the egregious nature of what transpired is simply appalling – and at a correctional facility, no less.”
In September 2013, STAR spent $5,560 on airline tickets and registration to send six workers to a conference in Reno. The night before leaving on the trip, the employees ran up a $154 bar tab and added a $50 tip — charged to a STAR credit card. They arrived in Reno a day early and spent $797 on meals and lodging, the audit found. They also admitted that none of them attended the conference in its entirety. One said he skipped a whole day of the conference to play in a poker tournament with a co-worker. Executive Director Charles Philabaun III took a side trip to Lake Tahoe.
The audit reported that this behavior was common.
STAR credit card statements showed improper charges included: thousands of dollars for alcohol, taxi fees when transportation was already provided, travel expenses for family members, and two transactions totaling $170 at a Columbus strip club.
Auditors concluded more than a dozen receipts for credit card transactions were forged.
In total, the special audit issued $20,090 in findings against the following individuals:
• Deputy Director Josh Saunders - $12,042
• Executive Director Charles Philabaun - $5,965
• Director John Adkins - $471
• Director Matthew McClellan - $368
• Business Manager Sharon Hart - $627
• Director Cary Williams - $161
• Director Shannon Bishop - $157
• Fiscal Director James T. Holt - $74
• Adam McPheters - $85
• Chris Kimbler - $85
• Danny Reynolds - $55
“Of all places, the fact that these improper expenditures occurred at a correctional facility is particularly alarming,” Yost said. “The leaders of these facilities need to set a good example for inmates trying to get their lives back on track.”