County commission seeks DWI funds

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

Quay County commissioners have authorized the district attorney’s office to seek the return of more than $35,000 from the Quay County DWI Task Force.

Commissioners allege Task Force officials improperly transferred $35,756, acquired mostly from donations, to a private non-profit company, court records show.

Noreen Hendrickson, the director of the Task Force, has been placed on paid administrative leave while the matter is being investigated. Hendrickson did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

“The basic issue of the lawsuit,” 10th Judicial District Chief Deputy District Attorney Don Schutte said, “is to make sure there is full public viewing of the monies that are spent.

“I don’t think that anybody (on the Task Force) was doing anything wrong. It’s just that we are wanting to make sure there’s a public oversight.”

The County Commission, according to Schutte, has no problem with the Task Force spending money received from donations. The Commission would prefer the transactions go through the county treasurer’s office, he said.

According to the petition filed Monday in district court, the DWI Task Force is a planning council authorized to provide advice to the Commission as to the preparation of a county DWI plan. That plan includes “recommendations and goals for providing, improving and funding DWI programs in the county.”

County commissioners allege that since 2002 the Task Force has received money directly through donations from criminal or traffic offenders.

As a condition of probation, offenders were required to make a contribution between $10 and $100 to a local crime stopper program or drug abuse resistance education program that operates within the court’s jurisdiction.

The petition states the Commission does not view the Task Force as a drug abuse resistance education program. Schutte said the DWI Task Force works with the DWI Council for the purpose of preventing DWIs and could be considered a crime stopper program.

“The judge has the provision under law to order donations,” Schutte said. “I don’t think anybody cares if it goes to the Task Force … or anywhere, provided it is used for what the statute provides.”

The petition alleges that, to avoid public scrutiny, the Task Force created CASA, Inc. in the spring of 2005 as a nonprofit corporation and transferred $35,765 from the accounts of the DWI Task Force to the corporation without consent or knowledge from the County Commission.

The petition requests that CASA board members account for the money. Schutte said CASA has been cooperative throughout.

Three members of the CASA, Inc. board are also members of the Task Force — Pam Tompkins, Jesse Robinson and Catherine Bugg. Attempts to contact all three were made, but all three either declined to comment or did not return calls for comment.

“I don’t think that anybody has personally profited, personally misused the funds,” Schutte said.

If funds have been misused, Schutte said it was with the community in mind. Schutte said he believes the Task Force spent $10,000 to purchase surveillance equipment for the Tucumcari Police Department.

“That’s a worthwhile cause,” Schutte said, “but it’s not stopping anybody from driving drunk, and it’s not teaching a middle schooler about the evils of drug abuse.”

Commissioners declined additional comment, citing pending litigation.