Oklahoma Sheriff To Retire Amid Medical Bill Dispute

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Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel is retiring, a decision that avoids the possibility of being forced out when an investigation of his office is complete, The Oklahoman reports. Whetsel, a Democrat, has been sheriff 20 years and was last re-elected in a close vote in November. “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith, and now this is the season and the time for my retirement,” Whetsel, 67, said yesterday. He said he is convinced new leadership is required to solve problems with the aging and deteriorating county jail and to address persistent funding woes that make it difficult to hire and keep employees. A new jail is needed, he said.

An investigation into allegations of financial mismanagement at the sheriff’s office has been underway for months. After a special audit of the sheriff’s office at the request of District Attorney David Prater, state auditors concluded in October that, “All funds were not expended in a lawful manner.” The audit criticized Whetsel for not paying the jail’s medical bills for months in 2015 “even though funds were available at the time payment was due.” Florida-based Armor Correctional Health Services Inc., which provides medical care to inmates, filed a breach of contract lawsuit over the unpaid bills. It was awarded $3.3 million in June. If an appeal fails, county property owners may have to pay the award, through increased taxes over three years.

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