LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — The police chief in Oakland told officials there he was using gift cards to buy ammunition.
But an audit by the Nebraska State Auditor’s Office revealed that Oakland Police Chief Terry Poland had used nearly $15,000 in funds of the northeast Nebraska farm town to purchase a long list of personal items, from ice-fishing equipment to a $400 wake surfboard and a $950 glass basketball backboard.
The audit, released Monday, also indicated that Poland and two other officers double-billed hours to both Oakland and nearby Lyons for patrolling the streets.
Poland, who has been the police chief in Oakland for perhaps six years, did not immediately respond to phone calls left by the Nebraska Examiner.
He is still on the job, pending completion of an investigation by the FBI, Oakland Mayor Ted Beckner said Tuesday.
“I can’t tell you much until an investigation is done,” which may take two to three months, Beckner said.
When asked whether the chief misused city funds, the mayor said, “that’s what it looks like,” adding that he considered the audit report preliminary.
Lyons Mayor Andy Fuston did not respond immediately to a phone call.
The Auditor’s Office had fielded concerns about improper documentation — a lack of receipts — concerning the chief’s use of Scheel’s gift cards to purchase “ammunition.”
‘No indication of fraud’
A March 2021 note from Oakland’s auditor said that the use of gift cards had been discontinued and that there was “no indication of fraud,” after the matter had been discussed with the mayor and police chief.
Poland, according to the State Auditor’s Office, had told city officials that using Scheel’s gift cards to purchase ammunition was convenient and allowed officers on the three-man force to buy bullets when they were in Omaha.
Poland, according to the Auditor’s Office, also said Scheel’s would not allow charges for ammunition against the city’s store account — which turned out to be false.
By November, the auditors learned not only about the gift card issue but that the three Oakland police officers, including Poland, had been double-billing both Oakland and Lyons for hours spent patrolling both towns.
After discussing the situation with the FBI and the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, it was decided that the State Auditor’s Office would do a full audit.
Yeti cooler among purchases
The audit revealed that the chief had used Oakland’s charge account at Scheel’s to purchase $14,070 worth of gift cards, which were then used to purchases dozens of personal items, including “a Yeti cooler, jewelry, clothing, food/snacks, fishing equipment, and other goods that serve no apparent public or municipal purpose,” according to the audit.
“The actual gift card receipts show clearly that no ammunition was purchased,” the audit stated.
The audit also found that the double-billing involved 30 days during 2021. Poland alone, according to the audit, double billed for 181.5 hours of work, which amounts to about $3,500 in costs, “giving rise to concerns about potential fraud.”
Theft, theft by deception and official misconduct by a public employee and misuse of public resources are all crimes, the audit pointed out. Official misconduct, for instance, is a Class II misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Tighter controls recommended
The audit recommended that the towns of Oakland and Lyons consult with the Burt County attorney about the questionable payroll claims.
The state audit, signed by Deputy State Auditor Craig Kubicek, recommended that the two towns implement tighter controls over spending by employees. The audit also pointed to instances where Lyons City Council members had conflicts of interests in approving city bills and said it was against the law to provide year-end bonuses — amounting to $50 to $150 each — to city employees.
In their official responses, Oakland and Lyons officials said they would implement systems to more accurately track hours worked by police officers. Lyons indicated it was changing policies to reflect the auditor’s concerns about bonuses and conflicts of interest.
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