HAZARD – The case of more than half a million dollars missing from the tax rolls of the Perry County Sheriff’s Office will likely head back to the grand jury for further investigation, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hansen.
The case was first brought before the grand jury in October 2012, with a representative of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office serving as witness, resulting in the indictment of 66-year-old Lana Dean of Hazard. Dean is a former employee of the sheriff’s office who, according to the indictment, stole more than $500,000 in tax money over a four-year period.
Hansen, who was not commonwealth’s attorney when the indictment was returned last year, said on Thursday that he has several questions about the case as it moves closer to trial, which is currently set for Aug. 12.
“I’m just kind of curious as to why, after so many years of state auditors and local auditors in Perry County, why no one was able to find anything,” he said.
It was in 2008 when a state audit released by former Auditor Crit Luallen detailed a scheme she said at the time was “one of the largest in the history of the State Auditor’s Office.”
Auditors looking over the sheriff’s tax accounts noticed that a deficit had occurred when unreported corporate franchise tax payments were used to replace undeposited money taken after Perry County homeowners paid their property tax in cash at the sheriff’s office. According to the indictment, Dean is accused of taking over $590,000.
The audit noted the missing money dated from 2002 to 2006, during the last few months of Sheriff Les Burgett’s first tenure and spanning the majority of the term of former Sheriff Pat Wooton.
Hansen said the case presents problems for the prosecution because the thefts had apparently been going on for years without auditors noticing anything, while dealing with audits involves detailed accounting practices. He said he doesn’t know if more people could have been involved in perpetrating the crime, or if it was that severe mistakes were made in accounting for the money.
“I want to know why everybody else missed it, or what was done,” he said. “All I know is, I have a lot of ‘why’ questions at this point.”
Hansen declined to note any other specific questions he might have, but he did confirm the case will undergo more scrutiny.
“It will be going back to the grand jury for further investigation,” he said.
Further investigation is precisely what is needed, said Dean’s defense attorney, David Johnson, who noted he has retained an expert to review the evidence which he described as “voluminous.”
“We’re open to giving them all the time they want to look at it,” Johnson said. “We believe she’s innocent, and ultimately we believe the truth will come out that she didn’t do anything wrong.”