Iowa Attorney General reviewing 6th Correctional Services report for possible charges

Linn County Attorney requests independent review because his brother is current director

Erin Jordan
Published: February 3 2014 | 8:55 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:04 am in

Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden has asked the Iowa Attorney General’s Office to review a report by the State Auditor detailing misspending by the Correctional Services district run by Vander Sanden’s brother.

“I believe it is in the public interest to have an independent government entity conduct an impartial and objective review of the Auditor’s report in light of my family relationship to the current director of the 6th Judicial District Department of Corrections,” Vander Sanden said in a statement released Monday.

The outside review is important so the public knows “the ultimate findings were not the result of improper influences or consideration," he said.

The report released Jan. 10 showed $776,000 in improper disbursements from the district, with $563,000 going to a nonprofit started by the district’s former director, Gary Hinzman. The district paid the nonprofit’s payroll, as well as gave the group free office space, cell phones and use of state vehicles, auditors found.

The district also made $170,000 in improper vacation payouts to former employees and $40,000 in vacation paid before it was earned, the report states.

When Hinzman retired in May, his assistant director, Bruce Vander Sanden, was named to lead the agency that provides community-based corrections in six Eastern Iowa counties, including Linn and Johnson. Bruce Vander Sanden is Jerry Vander Sanden’s younger brother.

The 64-page report was a hot potato last month when Jerry Vander Sanden said he would not review it for possible criminal charges because the State Auditor’s Office did not send him the report.

Tami Kusian, a deputy state auditor who led the 18-month review of the district’s finances, said because it wasn’t an official audit, but rather a review requested by Corrections Director John Baldwin, her agency did not send it to the county attorney.

Kusian said the report did not show “absolute fraud,” but said questions remained about other criminal activity.

Scott Brown, an assistant attorney general, previously his office would not review the report because Iowa’s judicial system is set up so county attorneys make those decisions. County attorneys can refer these cases to the AG’s office, which is done in about 20 percent of the time.

Vander Sanden said Jan. 24 he would take a look at the document, available online.

On Friday, he asked the AG's office to take over review of the report for possible criminal misconduct to avoid a perceived conflict of interest, his statement said.

The Correctional Services district has been taking steps to separate its finances from the Community Corrections Improvement Association. Bruce Vander Sanden has sold 19 cars and removed CCIA employees from the state's health and dental benefits. The CCIA has always paid the district for the benefits, but employees were not eligible for the state's plan.

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