By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- An investigation into county expenditure and procedures initiated by St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain will bring work to a halt, according to county Administrator Karen St. Hilaire.
Hilaire and at least five other county officials are to appear in court July 29 for a grand jury investigation that’s likely to come with a large price tag.
The subpoena issued to St. Hilaire orders the county to compile 10 years of information relating to asset forfeiture and equitable sharing accounts. Hilaire said the request is “perplexing” and appears excessive for what the county administrator believes was a mistake that she had little to do with.
The subpoena was triggered by the claims from the district attorney's office that the county had misused drug and criminal forfeiture funds by purchasing approximately $12,000 in audio equipment for the county chambers.
Rain has also accused the county of “nonfeasance and neglect” for failing to apply for a Victim Services Grant that provides $500,000 in funding for two victim advocate positions.
The subpoena calls for all reports, papers, invoices, vouchers, order forms, account transfers, letters written and electronic, emails, texts, downloads, accounting bookkeeping documents, logs, bank records, statements, audit reports and email searches.
When asked how the request would be accomplished, St. Hilaire said she was still working on it.
“We are not sure. I don’t think you’ll find many of our county employees are used to being hauled in for grand jury investigations. This is not a normal day for county government.”
St. Hilaire said Rain’s department received five emails regarding the grant and the probation department received six. She said both departments failed to recognize it. “Everybody missed it,” she said.
St. Hilaire said she also believes the forfeiture money was used in a legal manner, according to New York State guidelines, since the county chamber is also used for grand jury investigations.
While St. Hilaire said she has not yet estimated the full cost of compiling records, but said it would take hundreds of hours by senior staff to complete the request. She said the impact will be felt through several departments and was certain to be a costly endeavor.
"This means a whole lot of other business is not going to get done," she said. "If you want to stop county government in its tracks this is the way to do it."
St. Hilaire said the county put an email archive in place two years ago and that archive includes more than 3 million emails.
"And that's only the emails for two years," she said.
To address the allegations, St. Hilaire said she is requesting a special prosecutor who has no involvement with the county government.
“I believe that someone who has no involvement in this needs to determine if there is a need for this investigation,” she said. “If we are going to take this seriously, then we need to make sure we have a neutral party involved.”
Requests to the St. Lawrence County District Attorney’s Office regarding how many county officials and others were being subpoenaed were denied.
“Any process from the (Grand Jury) is secretive and cannot be commented on by the DA's office. You can't foil it because any (Grand Jury) proceeding is an ongoing investigation and confidential. It would be a felony to release that,” a representative from Rain’s office said in an email.