Audit of Bristol County Sheriff’s Office finds mismanaged transfer, credit card transactions

Feb 17, 2019

State officials have uncovered mismanaged reimbursements and questions about ensuring adequate compensation for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office’s immigration detention program.

The issues were uncovered during an audit of the department by State Auditor Suzanne Bump. The audit, which examined the department’s adherence to financial laws and regulations between July 2015 and December 2017, uncovered four issues.

Two of the issues relate to the department’s agreement with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house federal immigration detainees awaiting deportation proceedings at its Faunce Corner Road jail. According to the report, the department failed to transfer $348,922 of federal reimbursements from ICE to the state treasurer’s office, or account for them in the state accounting system.

“The Commonwealth should have received these funds from ICE as payment for BCSO’s having housed and transported federal immigration detainees who were in deportation proceedings,” read the report. “By not transferring these funds, BCSO deprived the Commonwealth of their use.”

Sheriff’s office officials stated in the report that the money was placed in a department account that is not usually used to receive funds from ICE. Officials said due to turnover in staffing at ICE, the federal agency mistakenly used an old account prior to the sheriff’s office being absorbed into the state in 2010.

State officials also faulted the deal itself. The department is currently paid $98 per day a federal detainee is held at its jail, and had not renegotiated that fee since 2010. This led state officials to conclude that the state might not be receiving equitable compensation.

The department had been unaware the fee had not been negotiated since 2010, but said in the report the cost per detainee is $88 per day, making negotiating a higher rate difficult. The state, however, still recommends the formation of a formal policy to examine if the department is getting a fair deal.

The other two issues relate to the department’s handling of financial documentation. The state auditor found the sheriff’s office had failed to submit inmate total cost analysis reports in 2016 and 2017 as required by state law. Sheriff’s office officials blamed the issue on the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association, which officials said did not submit the correct templates.

The audit also uncovered missing credit card expenditures. Auditors found out of 67 credit card purchases totaling $39,294, 19 lacked itemized receipts and five others did not include receipts at all. Department officials said the five missing receipts were misplaced while Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was traveling, and the department was unaware itemized receipts were required.

While outside the scope of the state auditor’s traditional duties, several concerns raised by the public were also examined in the audit.

In the past several years, the sheriff’s office has come under fire for allegations that its suicide rate is higher than that of other county jails, jails are overcrowded, lack sufficient health care, and inmates lack quality food or climate control.

According to the report, the suicide rate inside Bristol County jails was “similar to that of other Sheriff’s Departments in the Commonwealth” from 2016 to July 2018.

It was found that the Dartmouth jail was, as of December 25, 2017, at 68 percent capacity, and the New Bedford Ash Street Jail was at 83 percent capacity. An auditing team visited the food preparation areas and found sanitary conditions, and the temperature in the jail was comfortable.

“We took seriously community concerns that were relayed to us, but did not find anomalies in the Sheriff’s operations,” Bump said in a statement. “As to questions regarding the Sheriff’s activity on policy matters, those are matters best left to the voters of Bristol County.”