Jasper County Prosecutor Dean Dankelson said he's seeking an outside investigation into allegations of misuse of public property by the Jasper County Sheriff.
Sheriff Archie Dunn and his attorney say the allegations detailed in a letter from Dankelson to the Missouri Attorney General's office are an obvious political play aimed at influencing the August primary election.
The dispute between the Jasper County Commissioners and Dunn took a new twist this week with the release of a letter outlining five specific complaints against the sheriff accusing him of what Dankelson called in the letter using “the assets of his office for personal gain.”
“What you have to remember is it's election time,” Dunn said. “I believe all these allegations and accusations by the prosecuting attorney's office and the commission and the auditor are initiated to impact the outcome of the election.”
The letter outlines five specific actions on five specific dates, one in 2011 and four in April and May 2012:
• “On April 12, 2012, Sheriff Dunn submitted a bill in the amount of $3,030, payable to Symbol Arts, to be paid out of the Sheriff's Fund. This bill was approved by the auditor and commission. The items purchased were Breast Cancer Awareness coins. On the invoice it is noted in writing that the 'funds will be reimbursed.' No indication is made of how that will take place or where the funds will come from.”
Dankelson notes that sale of the coins is promoted and information about how to get the coins is available on a “Re Elect Archie Dunn” Facebook page, but not on the Sheriff's official website. He also says the coins are available at twice their original cost and that “It is believed that any funds collected in excess of the $3,030 cost would be donated to the American Cancer Society.”
“This creates the appearance that Dunn is using coins purchased with government funds for his own individual gain as his campaign Facebook page is promoting items purchased with government funds,” the letter said.
Dunn said a secretary inadvertently took the money from a Sheriff's Fund that comes from money paid for serving papers in legal matters. He meant for the money to come from cash left over in the private “Shop with a Deputy” fund.
“It was an attempt to raise some money for the Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation,” Dunn said. “We've done this before, we've used this sheriff's fund to pay for things that will be reimbursed. I do that quite frequently. This is the find that comes from service fees. t was going to be 100 percent replaced, the profits are going to be given to the Breast Cancer Foundation and the secretary inadvertently took it from the Sheriff's fund.”
The letter accuses the sheriff of:
• Using a sheriff's department information technologies worker to create his election webpage.
• Improperly placing a reelection tent near sheriff's vehicles on display at a Fraternal Order of Police football game at Missouri Southern State University on May 19.
• Sending an email message including an attachment with “Facts about the Law Enforcement Sales Tax,” that appears political in nature from his Sheriff's office email to sheriff's employees on their work email.
• Giving away t-shirts with the “Re-elect Dunn” logo to children at an official Sheriff's office DARE presentation.
“My concern is an ongoing pattern of using county resources to assist in a personal matter — running a campaign for reelection,” Dankelson wrote in his letter. “On behalf of the county, this office — Acting as county attorney — is seeking the return of the $3,030 spent on the Breast Cancer Awareness coins. I am seeking the assistance of the Attorney General's Office to further investigate these claims, if necessary, and for any further action deemed necessary to stop this pattern of behavior.”
Bill Fleischaker; the attorney representing Dunn in his lawsuit regarding the disposition of proceeds from the law enforcement sales tax, said he plans to contact the attorney general's office and refute the allegations point by point.
Fleischaker said incumbents to political office routinely use their accomplishments while in office in campaigns for reelection.
“So if one of the county commissioners is running for reelection and uses a picture of him sitting at a county commissioners desk in the courthouse in a campaign ad, is that using county property improperly?” Fleischaker said. “If so you better start investigating elections all over this state because that's what people do.”
He said the fact that the prosecuting attorney's letter to the attorney general was leaked to the media indicates to him the letter and allegations are political in nature, meant to derail Dunn's campaign for a third term as Sheriff.
“The fact that you go around leaking to the press the fact that a letter has been sent to the attorney general asking to investigate the sheriff, and I'm not suggesting that Mr. Dankelson did that, but leaks are not something that happen with legitimate investigations,” Fleischaker said. “They happen with political events, so that fact alone causes me to think its politically motivated.”