A gun club visit in Scottsdale, Ariz.: $600. Three floor liners from Amazon.com: $270. A single meal at Pepperhead Restaurant: $275. And a Bluetooth microphone from L.A. Police Gear: $217.
Using his taxpayer-funded, department-issued credit card, former Montezuma County Undersheriff Robin Cronk made all the above purchases this year. County expense reports reveal Cronk charged nearly $3,000 last month alone in his final days as undersheriff.
The Cortez Journal was billed a $25 county filing fee to physically examine the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office monthly expense records dating back to 2011. The freedom-of-information request included all records since Sheriff Dennis Spruell assumed control of the county’s top law enforcement agency.
In 2011, records indicate Cronk’s credit card bill totaled more than $6,000. Last year, his total charges nearly doubled to more than $11,500. This year, he was on course to surpass 2012 levels, racking up nearly $7,500 through the first half of 2013.
“[Cronk] didn’t have to check in with me whenever he made a purchase for the sheriff’s office,” Spruell said.
Three stacks of records nearly 10 inches high reveal receipts for gas, meals, conferences and training sessions, batteries, dog food, airfare to Las Vegas, rental car to Albuquerque and overnight trips to Denver. Records also reveal purchases for weapons, ammunitions and holsters. Most are legitimate work-related expenses, Spruell said.
Yet records also reveal a few suspect receipts for items such as camouflage seat covers for $57.98, an iPhone case for $73.16, a cherry-wood coin holder from Utah for $35, along with flowers and a card from a Durango grocer for $52.84. All purchases made by Cronk at the taxpayers expense, those minuscule items bother Spruell the most.
“They were very small items, but that doesn’t matter,” Spruell said. “Those items didn’t belong to him, and he was not entitled to it.”
Spruell declined to comment on any specific billing questions, citing he wants the Colorado Bureau of Investigations probe into any misappropriated funds to be honest and fair.
“The investigation of alleged credit card discrepancies involving Montezuma County Undersheriff Robin Cronk of the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office continues,” said CBI spokesperson Susan Medina. “I do not have new information to release at this time as this is an active investigation.”
Following the launch of the investigation, Cronk resigned his post as undersheriff last month. The sheriff admitted he was disappointed.
“I put my faith in [Cronk], and he let me down,” Spruell said.
Cronk, however, isn’t alone in his spending spree. In 2012, the department’s total credit card charges increased by approximately a fifth from the previous year to more than $77,000. Now, midway through Spruell’s four-year term as sheriff, records show the department’s annual credit card transactions are on pace to double by year’s end. At $63,500 in the first half of this year alone charged for goods and services, the department has already surpassed its total billings for all of 2011.
Spruell was quick to dismiss the evidence supporting the departments steady increase in spending, claiming prices have risen.
“We have never asked the [county] commissioners for any more than what’s been budgeted,” he said. “All of our expenditures are within our budget. We’ve never spent outside of our budget, and we won’t.”
Spruell declined to comment on how the credit card scandal was discovered, but he was direct about taking control of the agency’s spending habits. County records reveal that five individuals within the sheriff’s department were issued credit cards. Administration, detectives, patrol, records, detentions, transport and corrections division officials also had access to individual credit card accounts. Spruell said the credit cards were used under his authority, but Cronk was granted “a lot more leeway” when making purchases. That policy has since changed.
“Now, I have the credit cards, and if someone wants to use it they have to come ask me for it and tell me why they need it,” Spruell said.
Since the Cronk credit card scandal surfaced last month, Spruell has also called for an outside audit of the entire department. The agency-wide audit is slated to start on Monday, he said.
“I have told [the auditor] to be fair and objective, and find out what’s going on,” Spruell said. “If there’s anything that I’m not seeing, [the audit] will bring it my attention, so I can correct it.”
“I want everybody to exactly know what goes on this agency,” he added. “It’s not my agency. It’s the public’s agency.”
Records from 2012 also reveal Cronk surpassed the annual uniform stipend of less than $400, charging nearly $1,750 for online purchases from L.A. Police Gear to buy tactical pants, shirts, jackets and gloves. In regard to weapons and ammunition related credit card purchases by Cronk, Spruell said those were also not part of protocol.
“Anytime there was an expenditure above $500, they were to go through me, and that wasn’t happening,” Spruell said.
Attempts to reach Cronk for comment were unsuccessful.