In response to Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano's recent admission of wrongdoing--and the county's subsequent request for an investigation--State Auditor Hector Balderas has announced his plans to contract an independent firm to conduct a special audit of the department. (Updated)

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UPDATED 4:30 pm: SFR just spoke with Balderas, and he tells us he's hoping to set the county up with an independent auditor (from one of the firms approved by the Office of the State Auditor) within the next week or two. The audit itself, which Balderas says will also include other county departments, should take approximately 60 days.

Here's SFR's Q&A with Balderas, followed by the text of the press release issued this morning.

SFR: What prompted the special audit?

HB: We met with the county on Monday; I wanted to make sure I knew what they wanted. They were very adamant and very concerned about not really having confidence that they had put their hands completely around their total loss. That was the first thing. The second reason was...that I'm very concerned. Anytime there's an outright admission of theft, it's very important to get an outside opinion.

SFR: Why is an outside opinion more important when somebody confesses?

HB: That's usually just the tip of the iceberg. You don't want to just take an individual's word for it; you want to get an opinion to see if there are other sustained losses. Lack of inventorying is a widespread problem, and it's something that usually governments roll their eyes at when I point it out to them, but lack of inventorying and lack of control around cash and assets is a big problem. When you don't have tight controls, it's easy for a bad actor to just take that property and convert it for their own personal gain. I think now [Santa Fe County is] realizing that there's value in really getting a true understanding of whether or not the county and the sheriff's office operate in the kind of environment that can identify theft.

SFR: You told me about a month ago, before all this happened, that you were planning a special audit of Santa Fe County.

HB: That's correct. They've had a whole host of other issues. There was a lack of confidence already, and this just adds insult to injury. I thought, 'We can't allow just the normal audit function to continue.' Central control should have caught this much sooner.

SFR: I mean, if this has been going on for years, and Santa Fe County has been duly filing its audits the whole time but hasn't found anything, isn't this an instance of a more systemic breakdown?

HB: Absolutely. I can tell you there's probably two areas of deficiency: One, the county has had inventory findings in the past, but generally there's not a commitment for corrective action internally, so we flag it and they never fix it. The second thing is the state requirements are only a starting point; it's up to them to implement tighter controls.

The audit is really just an X-ray scan of somebody's financial health. Just like you or I would never expect an X-ray to take control of our own physical health, the audit is a useful tool, but it's still a limiting tool. At the end of the day, the managing body and how they handle purchases and expenditures is really up to them.

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PRESS RELEASE:

State Auditor Hector Balderas Announces Special Audit of

the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department

Recent resignation of Santa Fe County Sheriff Greg Solano spurs review

(Santa Fe, NM)- Today, State Auditor Hector Balderas announced a special audit of the Santa Fe County's Sheriff's Department and the county's internal financial control process.  The county contacted Balderas and asked for assistance in reviewing allegations of misappropriation of public resources by former county Sheriff Greg Solano.

"The alleged activity publicly disclosed by former Sheriff Solano is very troubling," Balderas said.  "My top priority is to assess the total loss of taxpayer dollars and prevent any further losses."

Balderas is currently working with county officials to obtain an independent audit firm, approved by the State Auditor, to conduct special procedures related to the Sheriff's Department and the County's overall internal control structure.

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