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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

Ex-Sheriff Patrick Cannon may be pounding the pavements for a new gig after last year’s election but, judging from county credit card receipts, he should at least look nice at job interviews.  Bank of America statements furnished by the Dade County Commission pursuant to the Sentinel’s open records request show that Cannon racked up $3,643.99 at clothing retailers in October – after losing the Republican primary in August – and had the bill sent to Dade.

County officials who questioned the credit card charges say Cannon told them the expenditures were for suits for himself, his investigators and his deputies to wear when they appeared in court.  As of Monday morning, though, nobody else at the sheriff’s department reported receiving new suits. 

Dade County Executive and Commission Chairman Ted Rumley, responding to questions following release of the records, said he routinely reviews all charges made on the county credit card, and he admitted that Cannon’s $2,757.98 purchase of Oct. 11 at Men’s Wearhouse, another for $634.74 at J.C. Penney the same day, and a third at JCPenny.com for $251.27 on Oct. 15 had leapt up at him from the page last fall when he opened the credit card statement.  

“If it had been at the uniform place over there, where they buy all the police officers’ uniforms, it would probably never even have been questioned,” he said.  “We get bills monthly from them, like if a deputy gets out on a chase or a fight and tears his britches, or sometimes at the end of the year they’ll buy like 20 pairs of pants, just to keep them looking neat – but I don’t know that anything’s ever been bought at Men’s Wearhouse.”

Furthermore, said Rumley, no receipts had been turned in for the item, which is routine for official purchases.  So shortly after he received the bill, he called Cannon in for a meeting with him and District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff.

Goff confirmed that Cannon said the clothes were for his staff, though he hadn’t specified which employees.  “He didn’t say it was for Billy Bob or Jim,” said Goff.  “He did say they were bought for the department, and he did say it was for in case they had to go to court.”

Following that meeting, Goff said, he and Rumley had asked some of the sheriff’s department employees if they had received their new suits yet.  “Then it came out they didn’t know what we were talking about,” he said.

Rumley said he and Goff had given the thing time.  “I thought, well maybe he’s going to give it to them for Christmas,” said Rumley.

But Santa had not delivered suit-sized presents to any of the detectives or deputies by the end of the year, and the new sheriff, Ray Cross, confirmed Monday that the suits were still missing in action.

Anyway, said Goff, whether the clothes were for Cannon or for his staff:  “Where does it say we’re responsible for buying dress suits for anybody?”   And besides, he said, the autumn before a new administration took over in January was a terrible time to invest in new clothes for anyone, because who knew what staff changes the new sheriff might make?

Rumley said he’d called the retailers for details about Cannon’s charges but had been unable to obtain any.  Though the credit card belongs to the county, each individual cardholder is considered a separate purchaser and entitled to privacy, he was told. 

Size specifications might have told Rumley whether the suits were meant to lend sartorial splendor to the lanky lines of the altitudinous Cannon himself, the more compact contours of his second-in-command, Danny Ellis, or the daintier dimensions of diminutive Detective Christy Smith. 

Such was not to be.  But does, in fact, the county usually spring for dress duds for sheriff’s department employees of any shape, size or description?  “Not since I’ve been here,” answered Commissioner Rumley.            

But, he said, eyebrow-raising as the ex-sheriff’s purchases may be, they are not illegal; once a duly-elected constitutional officer’s budget is set, he can spend it pretty much as he pleases. 

“There’s $12,000 in their budget for uniforms,” said Rumley.  “It don’t matter whether it’s suits, Fruit-of-the-Looms, whatever.  That’s his call.  I had a right to question him but as far as challenging him on it, you know, I just shook my head.”

In any case, said Rumley, the charges were enough to spark the interest of the county’s auditors.  “We’re doing as close to a full 150-percent audit as you can do, and we’re going back four years,” he said. 

Current Sheriff Ray Cross did not comment on the suit issue beyond assuring the Sentinel he had checked with his staffers and none had received new clothes.  He said rumors of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation were unfounded as far as he knew, though:  “If there was anything wrong in the previous administration we will pursue it.”

Both Cross and Rumley said the audit process is a slow one.  But Rumley hinted that the suit controversy was part of a larger picture and more revelations may emerge in the fullness of time.

Patrick Cannon did not return phone calls requesting his input for this article.


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