State: Can’t audit Drug Task Force books

LISBON – The Columbiana County Drug Task Force’s financial records for 2011 and 2012 were deemed “unauditable” by the state, which was disputed by the DTF director.

“All of the information is there. It’s just not in the format they want,” said the DTF director, Lt. Brian McLaughlin of the county sheriff’s office.

State Auditor David Yost’s office issued a news release Tuesday stating the DTF had been placed on the “unauditable” list because its financial records “were not adequate to complete the audit.” The DTF has been told what it needs to complete the audit and has three months to provide the information.

“Poor records lead to poor service for taxpayers. Auditable records must be provided to complete the audit and ensure accountability,” Yost said.

The news release caught McLaughlin by surprise, who said he just met last Thursday with a state examiner in charge of conducting the routine audit, and she mentioned nothing about DTF records being declared unauditable. He said the examiner simply provided him with a copy of the financial forms she wanted him to use in providing the state with the DTF’s financial information.

McLaughlin served as DTF director between 2001 and 2007 but returned as director in November 2012 after the then-director was suspended because of problems with DTF-issued cell phones. During his first stint as director, McLaughlin said he provided the state with individual folders containing financial records for each DTF account, and this was acceptable for performing audits.

When it came time for the state to perform the routine audit for 2011 and 2012, McLaughlin said he sent along the records in the individual account folders as he had done in the past. McLaughlin said he was not told until the Jan. 9 meeting with the examiner this practice was no longer acceptable and the state had created a specific form for him to use.

“That’s what it boils down to,” he said. “I didn’t know it had changed, but that’s not an excuse.”

McLaughlin said he completed filling out the new financial reporting form on Tuesday morning, the same day the news release was issued by the state. “It’s not like I was sitting on this for a month,” he said.

McLaughlin said his financial records for those years have been gone since early 2013, given to the special state audit team called in to examine DTF books in the wake of the former director’s suspension. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation also participated in the probe, and McLaughlin has no idea where the investigation stands.

He is concerned about the impact the state’s decision will have on the DTF credibility. “All the records are there, and I don’t know of any problems with them, and the special audit (examiners) didn’t say there was any problem with them,” McLaughlin said.