Is it small town politics or crime? Either way, it won’t be good for department morale.

SUBLETTE COUNTY

Sublette County sheriff faces criminal charges

Lillian Schrock 307-266-0574, Lillian.Schrock@trib.com Updated Jan 19, 2016 26

 

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Authorities arrested the Sublette County sheriff Tuesday, alleging he ordered more than $11,000 worth of equipment before taking office and then altered invoices to show he made the purchases after being sworn in.

Stephen Haskell is accused of ordering uniforms and badges for deputies before taking over as sheriff on Jan. 5, 2015. He allegedly told the Sublette County Commissioners that he made the orders after he was sworn in, so the items would be paid for by the county.

Haskell later asked the uniform and badge companies to doctor invoices to show he had purchased the items after Jan. 5, court documents allege.

The court documents also allege Haskell had asked Sublette County Commissioners to pay for his lodging during a trip to Baltimore. It was later discovered that the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police had already paid for his lodging.

The sheriff turned himself into authorities in Sweetwater County after the charges were filed. He was booked and released on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond, which does not require him to put up money before leaving jail.

In a statement released by the Sublette County sheriff’s office late Tuesday afternoon, Haskell said he was blindsided by the allegations, noting that some commissioners had previously said he had not done anything criminal.

“I am dismayed that my fellow elected officials have gone back on their word regarding this matter,” he said. “I have been very forthright and honest with them from the beginning and I have been met with hostility at every turn. I suppose this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. I look forward to working through the judicial process in this regard and being cleared.”

Haskell is charged with official misconduct, obtaining property by false pretenses, wrongful taking or disposing of property, false swearing in of nonjudicial or nonadministrative proceedings and public officer acting before qualifying, according to documents filed in the Sublette County Circuit Court.

Three of the charges are felonies and carry a maximum prison sentence of 22 years upon conviction. The remaining charges are misdemeanors, and could bring up to $6,000 in fines.

Haskell’s preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 11 in Sublette County. Natrona County District Attorney Michael Blonigen said he is serving as special prosecuting attorney for the case.
According to charging documents filed Tuesday, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation was assigned to look into the matter in September after Sublette County Commissioners wrote the agency asking for an investigation into “criminal wrongdoing” by Haskell.

Investigators interviewed Sublette County Clerk Mary Lankford, who provided them with vouchers that were approved for payment by the Sublette County Commissioners, the court documents state. The vouchers showed the county paid Skaggs Uniform and Creative Culture Insignia for orders made by Haskell before he was sworn in as sheriff. These payments totaled about $11,800 and excluded $3,000 paid by Haskell.

The documents state DCI agents obtained a recorded telephone call made by Haskell to Skaggs Uniforms, during which he asked the company to change the dates on the order. An employee at Creative Culture Insignia also told agents Haskell had called and requested to have the order dates altered because the items had been ordered in November and December, before he took office.

“I was elected to perform a specific function as the Sheriff of this county, and because I have opinions that differ from theirs, this is how I am treated,” Haskell said in his statement. “It’s a shame that when someone stands up for the people, this is what happens.”

Sgt. Katherine Peterson, spokesperson for the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office, issued a statement in November regarding a special prosecutor who was appointed to look into alleged misconduct by Haskell.

According to Peterson’s statement, Haskell was interviewed in September by DCI agents.

That release states the Sublette County Board of County Commissioners requested Haskell pay for uniform items that he bought before he was sworn in as sheriff. Haskell “accepted his responsibility for the mistake” and paid for the items himself, according to the release. Those items totaled about $3,000.

“Commission Chairman Andy Nelson and Commissioner Joel Bouseman each made statements, clarifying that they could clearly see there was no criminal intent concerning these orders, which were placed for law enforcement equipment and supplies destined for distribution to Sheriff’s Office personnel,” the release states. “Their concern was that Haskell had placed the orders before being sworn in, which caused them hesitation in paying for the items.”

About two weeks before the DCI interview, Haskell filed a court action against Lankford, the county clerk, alleging she was overstepping her professional boundaries.

In the action, Haskell claimed Lankford had been altering budget line items without permission. Haskell also asserted Lankford made a decision on a sheriff’s office personnel matter that she was not authorized to make.

Follow crime and courts reporter Lillian Schrock on Twitter @lillieschrock.

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