Report: No oversight for how Philadelphia sheriff spends tens of millions annually

(The Center Square) – A report from the Philadelphia City Controller says there was lack of financial oversight within the city’s Sheriff Office, giving Sheriff Rochelle Bilal carte blanche in how to spend tens of millions of dollars every year.

“The findings in the audit are serious and need immediate attention. They demonstrate the deeply entrenched problems in the Sheriff’s Office, problems that Sheriff Bilal inherited from the sheriffs before her,” City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart said.

“The Sheriff’s Office is operating outside of the checks and balances established in the Home Rule Charter meant to protect taxpayer funds from mismanagement or misuse,” Rhynhart wrote in the report.

Aside from the city funds budgeted for the Sheriff’s Office, it also manages the sale process for court-ordered mortgage and tax foreclosure of property and collects the revenue from those sales and fees. The office managed roughly 8,000-9,000 sales annually before the pandemic, but it’s difficult to say where that money goes or how it’s spent, the report says.

“The Sheriff’s Office does not maintain a comprehensive accounting system, or general ledger, to track the overall balance of the accounts or document complete records of financial transactions,” the report noted.

Of note, the audit report doesn’t trust the numbers provided by the Sheriff’s Office.

“We observed that the Sheriff’s Office’s bank reconciliation process is inadequate due to the lack of a recorded book balance to reconcile to and therefore cannot be relied upon,” the report noted.

The controller’s office was essentially operating in a void, unable to see the total spending in the sheriff’s discretionary funds.

For example, the Sheriff’s Office provided banking activity for an IT & Accounting custodial fund that showed almost $9.5 million in spending since 2015, but the controller’s office couldn’t determine how much money was in the account itself.

“The Sheriff’s Office is unable to provide an adequate audit trail for its custodial accounts’ financial activity,” the report noted.

To correct those problems, the city controller wants to see the sheriff create a comprehensive accounting system to track all funds, remit fee revenue to the city government, and ensure all spending is accounted for, reported, and reviewed by the city.

Additionally, the controller’s office recommends ending the practice of using custodial funds for discretionary purposes that aren’t authorized by the city.

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