No criminal charges will be filed in investigation into $1.1 million budget error from Eau Claire Co. DHS

Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 1:51 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A special prosecutor assigned to the investigation into Eau Claire County’s Department of Human Services over a massive budget error will not file criminal charges.

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Grunke said in a letter that after getting all the information from the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office investigation into the $1.1 million budget error from the DHS, he will be declining to file any criminal charges in the matter.

“While I agree there were issues in the Eau Claire County Human Services regarding some of the accounting records and the handling of finances, I found no facts that were deserving of a criminal offense, especially considering the burden of proving a crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Grunke.

DA Grunke was assigned as the special prosecutor in the case by Eau Claire DA Peter Rindal in 2022 to review the case for criminal charges.

Back in May of 2020 the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s office opened the investigation into the financial deficits of the Eau Claire Co. DHS.

“Having seen many embezzlement and fraud cases over my career, I can see why they felt there were “red flags” raised by several county board members which warranted further investigation,” said Grunke. “It seems there existed a lack of trust and transparency between the County Board, administrator, Human Services, and the Sheriff’s Office which aggravated the situation and made the investigation necessary.”

The La Crosse DA said there is no ill intent when it comes to the practices that led to the money missing, but he said there is certainly some dysfunction at the Eau Claire Co. DHS.

“I have no comment on whether internal polices, ethics rules, or personnel issues that need to be addressed,” said Grunke.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Almost three years ago the Eau Claire County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into a discrepancy in the Department of Human Services budget.

County administrator Kathy Schauf said county board members were concerned over the budget report, saying the DHS budget was over $2.2 million when it should have been over by $3.3 million.

The sheriff’s office ended their investigation in December of 2022.

The Eau Claire County District Attorney Peter Rindal appointed La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke as special prosecutor to review the findings from that investigation.

Gruenke released his conclusion Friday, stating that no criminal intent is behind the budget error of $1.1 million. He also said no criminal charges will be filed.

“I can’t tell you exactly what happened to that exact $1.1 million. There were a number of cases that some numbers are undetermined where an account would have one amount, but there were obviously multiple things under that one account. So, it’s a little hard to go back and figure out exactly what receipt was for what,” said Gruenke.

He also said it can’t be verified if the money reported missing is even missing.

Gruenke said though, it is certain no crime has been committed.

“There was no money that I could find that was missing that belonged to one person,” said Gruenke.

He said it could all mount to human error and improper training.

“It’s all a question of trying to track down exactly where the money went. Which is difficult going back a year or two after the fact.”

Gruenke said the case itself is intricate, and hopes it is a lesson learned for county leaders.

“I hope that going forward the county board and the administrator and human services can put this behind them and figure what needs to be changed going forward. And try to have a system that is more transparent, more accountable. And questions can be answered easier than having to go through this again,” said Gruenke.

Schauf did not reply to interview requests but in a press release said in part: “We are stronger today because of what we have learned and applied to deliver better operations to County residents.”