Trial delayed in missing tax money case

Cris Ritche — Editor

November 1, 2013

HAZARD – The trial of a former sheriff’s office employee set to begin on Monday was delayed after the judge approved a continuance and ordered investigators to provide evidence collected during the investigation.

Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen filed a motion to continue the trial of 66-year-old Lana Dean, citing his need for an assisting attorney who won’t officially be available until Dec. 1. But it was a secondary motion from defense attorney David Johnson which noted a plethora of evidence that still hasn’t been made available for review a year after the indictment was returned.

A former bookkeeper in the sheriff’s office, Dean is accused of pocketing local tax payments made in cash at the sheriff’s office and using corporate franchise taxes to replace the missing money. The alleged scheme was uncovered during a state audit of the sheriff’s tax accounts in 2008. According to the indictment returned by the grand jury in 2012, Dean is accused of taking over $590,000 over a four-year period between 2002 and 2006.

Johnson filed his motion requesting several items of discovery, including financial forms, photocopies of checks, and bank statements used in the sheriff’s office over the four-year period. He also had no objections to Hansen’s request for a new trial date, noting he hasn’t been able to review a variety of evidence, including documents in 2003, a year which Dean is accused of stealing more $200,000.

“We don’t have anything from that year, and that seems to be the biggest year,” Johnson said.

Johnson also requested financial records of another bookkeeper who worked in the sheriff’s office with Dean and had the same access to funds flowing through the office. He reiterated the defense’s position that the deficit reported by the auditor was not the result of theft, but rather “poor bookkeeping,” and based on the evidence he has seen thus far there is no basis to prosecute his client.

“I just don’t see how in the world, based on the discovery I’ve reviewed, that anybody could come to the conclusion that Mrs. Dean is guilty of anything,” Johnson said.

Hansen also noted that much of the records he needs to review for the case haven’t been made available, including several boxes of financial documents and receipts.

“I have less than 20 deposit slips from the sheriff’s department,” he said, adding his office has issued a subpoena requesting four years of records from Peoples Bank in Hazard.

Judge William Engle granted Hansen’s motion to continue the trial, which was set for Nov. 4 in Perry Circuit Court. No new date has been announced, though attorneys are due back in court on Nov. 14 for a status conference. Engle additionally ordered all evidence gathered during the investigation to be transported to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office in Perry County by Nov. 12.