GRANT COUNTY, KY (FOX19) - Howard Chipman decided to get involved in how gr ant County was spending tax dollars.
"I was told to shut up and sit down that it was none of my business. Stop trying to make trouble," Chipman explained. He was describing his conversation with Judge Executive Steve Wood during public comment time at a fiscal court meeting earlier this year.
After verbally battling with Steve Wood, the man who holds the county's highest elected office, over wages he said the county owed him, Chipman decided to get nosy.
"I was trying to figure out why the county kept telling me they didn't have the money to pay me for the hours I'd worked," Chipman told FOX19 NOW. "Steve Wood told me to start attending the fiscal court meetings to figure it out for myself."
"So, I did," Chipman said.
PURSUIT OF THE PUBLIC RECORD
On March 8, Howard Chipman delivered an open records request to the gr ant County administrative offices. Among several other items, Chipman wanted months of payroll records involving employees of the fiscal court, including the judge executive's office.
Chipman later got some of the records he asked for, then started the process of breaking the information down. What he found was discrepancies between what employees reported on time cards and what ultimately ended up on their official timesheets.
"These are other timesheets that show when people actually took vacation and sick time, but yet, it's not showing up on the other paperwork," Chipman said in a March 16 interview with FOX19 NOW.
The jail officer said he found other problems with the county records. Some of the weekly time cards that are used to record work hours were undated and some were dated a year into the future.
"There's no month, there's no year," Chipman explained," It's just a date, a day; it just doesn't make any sense."
Chipman, thinking about what to do with the information in those records, decided to report it.
"When things didn't add up, I decided it was time to see the grand jury," Chipman said.
'I WANT TO SEE THE GRAND JURY'
On March 9, gr ant County Justice Center sheriff's deputies used the courthouse's high tech surveillance cameras to zoom in on Howard Chipman's face as the jail officer sat, waiting to see the county grand jury. Chipman had a stack of paper in his hands – the public records he obtained through the open records request.
The deputies kept the camera on Chipman for some time, then zoomed on him again after he walked out of the grand jury room. This time, the video shows Chipman talking with a prosecuting attorney and a Kentucky State Policeman.
Chipman said it felt like he was inside the room for about five minutes.
"I think once they seen the dates that were listed as dates that haven't happened yet, I think that's when they turned and were like, that needs to be investigated," Chipman said.
That conversation with the prosecuting attorney and the trooper, Chipman explained, was so he could get his records to the KSP so that could start an investigation. Chipman delivered some of his records to KSP Post 6 offices that night, then made another delivery several days later.
ANALYZING THE PAY RECORDS
On March 16, we submitted open record requests to the gr ant County Fiscal Court, asking for some of the same payroll records Chipman sought in his investigation. On April 22, the county made some of those records available for us to inspect.
We analyzed the weekly time card records provided by the county, then compared those records to the timesheet. The timesheet is the record that tallies the regular pay, sick, vacation and holiday pay for each county employee.
In the fiscal court, every employee time card is sent to Angela Lawrence, the fiscal court's secretary. Lawrence then tallies the hours worked and enters that onto a timesheet, according to county fiscal manager Peggy Updike.
After Lawrence finishes the timesheet, it's then sent to the county's privately contracted payroll company for paycheck processing, Updike confirmed for FOX19 NOW.
Our analysis of the county record shows similar discrepancies to those Chipman laid out for the grand jury.
Deputy Judge Executive Scott Kimmich's timesheets from Jan. 1, 2015 through March 20, 2016 show he never took any leave, despite his weekly time cards showing he took 18 vacation days, 13 sick days and 2 bereavement days.
None of those days show up on Kimmich's timesheets.
Pat Conrad, the judge executive's executive assistant, payroll records show only one instance of leave noted on her timesheet: a Jan. 8, 2016 vacation. The amount of vacation taken cannot be read because the county redacted that
information from the records.
Conrad's weekly time cards show 19 leave instances between Jan. 1, 2015 and March 2016, but only the Jan. 8, 2016 vacation is showing on her timesheet.
During our investigation, we obtained multiple county emails from Conrad's government email address. Those emails show out of office replies, showing she was not in the office August 25 and 25, 2015, Oct. 15, 2015 and Jan. 22 through Feb. 1, 2016. Conrad's timesheets show regular pay for those dates.
Those Conrad timesheets on those dates show a note written in the "Misc Info" box, but the county blacked that information out before providing those records to us.
County financial clerk, Peggy Updike's payroll records do show vacations listed on her timesheets, but the amount of vacation taken was blacked out by the county. The Updike records provided to us by the county also showed leave taken on time cards that was not deducted on the timesheets Angela Lawrence submitted to the payroll contractor.
On June 21, we sent Updike, Conrad and Lawrence a message requesting an interview. None of the three responded to our request to interview them for this report.
KSP MOVES CASE OUT OF grant COUNTY
After collecting the records from Howard Shipman in March, the Kentucky State Police Post 6 office launched an investigation into the payroll records, according to Trooper David Jones, who handles media inquiries for the post.
In a March 22 phone call to Jones, he told FOX19 NOW, "We are looking into it to see if any actual laws have been violated."
We followed up with Jones at the end of June for an update on the investigation. Jones informed us the investigation had been moved out of the Post 6 office in gr ant County and sent to KSP's Special Enforcement Troop, a special crimes unit that deals with white collar crime.
As of this report, the investigation was "active" and "ongoing," Jones told FOX19 NOW in a July 6 phone call.
'I THINK YOU'VE ALREADY TALKED TO MY ATTORNEY'
We tried to interview Judge Executive Steve Wood and his second-in-charge, Deputy Judge Executive Scott Kimmich for this report. We submitted an email request to the two men.
Wood's attorney responded, declining an interview. Kimmich never responded.
"We are confident that at the conclusion of any investigation regarding Mr. Wood's administration it will be clear that such investigation was a waste of time for the Commonwealth and without any foundation," Wood's attorney, Stephen Bates wrote in a June 20 email in response to our interview request.
We met Wood outside the old courthouse building June 20 as he walked into a fiscal court meeting.
"I think you already talked to my attorney," Wood said, waving off our questions.
Wood wasn't completely silent on the matter.
"Absolutely no wrongdoing done – none. And, when I call you, you better put it on TV because there was nothing done wrong. I promise you that," Wood said as he walked into the building to lead the meeting.
"You spoke to my attorney and I don't comment on ongoing investigations," Scott Kimmich said as he walked into the back of the fiscal court building.
Neither Kimmich nor his attorney responded to our requests for an interview.
The Kentucky State Police investigation continues. We'll continue to follow this case to its end.