Sheriff's Office opens investigation of Hernando County Fair Association's finances

Fairgoers ride the Wave Swinger at the 2013 Hernando County Fair. An investigation has begun into the fair board’s handling of finances.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Fairgoers ride the Wave Swinger at the 2013 Hernando County Fair. An investigation has begun into the fair board’s handling of finances.

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into the operations and finances of the Hernando County Fair Association.

A detective with the agency visited the home of fair association president Robin McAndrew late last week, requesting a list of documents that included time sheets for fair employees, said Sandra Nicholson, past president and spokeswoman for the association.

"No specific crime or person is being targeted at this time,'' said sheriff's spokeswoman Denise Moloney. "There is enough 'reasonable suspicion' to justify further investigation to determine if in fact a crime has occurred and, if so, by whom."

An emergency meeting of the fair's executive board was convened Tuesday night to discuss the investigation and give Nicholson, who left the fair board in mid 2013, the responsibility of responding to questions.

The investigation comes in the wake of questions raised about the fair's financial status by Hernando County commissioners last week after fair board members made a pitch for financial help from the county. The fair board members provided a financial report and other information that some commissioners found questionable.

Questions about the financial report and a lack of specificity about where the association planned to spend county money prompted the commission to delay a decision. Commissioners asked that a detailed, prioritized wish list be brought back to them next week.

Nicholson said the fair board will likely push that off another couple of weeks to "get all of our ducks in a row.''

Records filed with the IRS show that the fair association has operated at a deficit in recent years, though the fair association has reported that it made a profit on the fair itself in 2012.

Former fair board member Ty Mullis was sitting in the audience at the commission meeting. He said as he listened to the discussion, he decided it was time to attempt to resolve concerns he has had since he served as a fair volunteer and board member.

At the advice of an assistant state attorney, Mullis said, he provided a sworn statement to the Sheriff's Office earlier this week acknowledging an email he received from Brooksville certified public accountant Pam McKinney, the fair association's accountant.

The email states that the financial reports presented to the County Commission by fair association officials were "fraudulently amended." The report in the commission's agenda packet was titled "Financial Statements and Accountant's Review Report Year Ended May 31, 2012," but someone had crossed out 2012 and written in 2013.

McKinney also told Mullis that she had not prepared any reports for the fair association for 2013.

Mullis said that in his statement, he outlined his concerns over the board's handling of financial matters, contractor bidding and its unwillingness to follow procedures in its bylaws.

He told the Times that he has numerous concerns about the lack of basic controls over cash transactions and the lack of transparency over financial and membership information.

When he raised those questions, he was not re-elected to his seat two years ago, Mullis said.

Nicholson said that during Tuesday's fair board meeting, a group of three members was assigned the task of investigating what happened with the dates on the financial report that went to the County Commission. According to discussion by the board, it may have been as simple as McAndrew doodling on her copy, then using that copy as the financial report given to the board.

"It was an honest mistake,'' Nicholson said.

Sheriff's Office opens investigation of Hernando County Fair Association's finances 02/05/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 8:23pm]

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