Washington jail administrator accused of stealing from inmate fund resigns before termination hearing

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MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County Jail Administrator Robert Gross has resigned after being suspended last month for alleged personal use of an in-house fund designed to benefit inmates of the 48-bed Washington County Jail.

Due to his resignation, a termination hearing that had been scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 24, won’t be necessary.

Cpt. Gross, 62, who had been the jail’s administrator since 1995, delivered a letter of resignation to County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald on Friday, Jan. 18, the day after he testified in a termination hearing for Sgt. Karina Richardson, 50, the jail’s clerk, who also was accused of dipping into the fund. After a contentious, 11-hour hearing on Jan. 17, Richardson was firedby unanimous vote of the three Washington County commissioners.

Washington County Sheriff Donnie Smith requested both termination hearings. He said Tuesday morning that he didn’t find out about Gross’s resignation until it was revealed by Fitzgerald during a scheduling meeting on Tuesday morning. The county manager was unavailable for comment Tuesday morning.

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“It seems I’m the last to know what’s going on around here,” Smith said in a phone interview.

Smith said it will take some time to post and fill both positions. Richardson’s old job, he said, will be scaled back to part-time, because the inmate benefit fund, which she managed, is now being administered by the office of the county treasurer.

The inmate benefits account collects and disburses funds deposited by jail inmates or by others on their behalf to purchase telephone time, cable TV services, snacks, stationery, stamps and other approved commissary items. The fund usually has a balance of between $40,000 and $60,000. Expenditures are supposed to directly benefit inmates of the 48-bed jail, and Gross had lead discretion as to how to tap into the fund. Sheriff Smith also is a legal signatory.

A recent investigation requested by Smith into use of the fund shows that, between Nov. 1, 2011, and Nov. 19, 2012, the total expenditures that did not appear to directly benefit inmates amounted to $7,272.

“I don’t care what the Department of Corrections thinks about this being turned into a part-time position, if they can’t do a better audit than that,” Smith said Tuesday. A DOC 2011 analysis of an independent audit of the jail’s inmate benefit account said the fund was “in compliance.”

Many of Smith’s critics say there’s no way the sheriff was unaware of ongoing misappropriation of inmate benefit funds. Smith denies that as well as allegations by both Gross and Richardson during hearings last week that he also was dipping into the fund for his personal gain.

“All I can say is that, as soon as I knew what was going on, I got on it,” Smith said Tuesday. “I count on my people to do their jobs correctly and for audits to make sure that they are. If I had known about this sooner, I would have acted sooner.”

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