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State auditor at a loss to determine cost of Oak Harbor officer's inaccurate time cards

An investigation by the Washington State Auditor’s Office into an Oak Harbor police officer’s inaccurate time sheets concludes that the exact amount of public funds lost is impossible to determine.

The report of the auditor’s special investigation was made public last week and likely spells the end to a controversy that has cost the city many tens of thousands of dollars. The auditor started the investigation in November of 2008 after learning that Oak Harbor Police Officer Patrick Horn was accused of providing false information on his time cards.

Horn was charged in Island County Superior Court with first-degree theft in connection with the timesheet inaccuracies, but the charge was later dismissed. Horn eventually returned to work after more than a year of paid leave under an agreement in which he admitted he falsified his time card, took 30 days’ leave without pay and agreed to be assigned away from patrol.

Also under the agreement, Horn was supposed to reimburse the city based on the investigation by the State Auditor’s Office. But the investigation concluded that auditors couldn’t determine the amount of the loss “because internal controls at the Police Department were not in place or were not being followed.”

“The auditor’s report really wasn’t helpful, from my point of view. But I understand their problem,” Oak Harbor Police Chief Rick Wallace said.

Without a number from the auditor, Wallace said the city prosecutor will have to negotiate with Horn’s attorney to decide the exact restitution amount. An investigator at the Island County Sheriff’s Office found that Horn was paid for 117 hours, totaling $3,443, for work that there was no evidence he performed.

The special investigation by the State Auditor’s Office concludes that Horn submitted time records that “did not reflect actual time worked from January 1, 2005, through August 12, 2008.”

The investigation finds that Horn recorded hours worked on time sheets when records show he had taken a day or partial day off; that he recorded vacation time on days he actually worked; that he did not always submit leave requests for time off; and that he did not comply with the overtime policy.

In addition, the auditors found that police supervisors did not enforce policies and procedures regarding payroll reporting and approval.

“Supervisors kept leave records that did not match the time sheets,” the investigation states. “They also approved timesheets for payment even when they noted discrepancies.”

Furthermore, the report states that the city, under state law, should have notified the State Auditor’s Office immediately after learning about any suspected loss of public funds.

The city’s response states that the city has implemented new internal controls over the payroll tracking process used at the police department. In addition, the police department staff received additional training about time sheets and leave requests.

According to Wallace, Horn was assigned to the jail after returning to work and has done a good job.

“He’s working his way back into a position of trust with the officers in the office,” Wallace said. “Time will tell.”

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