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Audit finds Montana secretary of state misused state vehicle

June 18, 2019

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton misused a state vehicle to drive home to Billings on weekends, at a cost of more than $5,700, an audit found.

The Legislative Audit Division referred its findings to the attorney general’s office because misuse of a state vehicle is a misdemeanor, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported Tuesday. A spokesman for Attorney General Tim Fox said the office was reviewing the audit’s findings.

This is not the first time Stapleton has run afoul of rules regarding personal use of public resources. He was fined $4,000 in February for using state resources, including email accounts, to announce he was seeking the Republican nomination for governor. On Saturday, he announced he was leaving the crowded governor’s race to run for the state’s lone U.S. House seat.

The audit did not identify Stapleton by name, but said an office employee who is required by law to maintain a residence in Helena used the pickup truck to travel to the employee’s family residence over 200 miles (322 kilometers) away on at least 69 days from Jan. 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. Most of the travel coincided with weekends.

Stapleton is the only person in the office required to maintain a Helena residence.

The Department of Administration has few exceptions under which state employees can use state-owned vehicles to commute to their residence: If the commute is less than 30 miles (48 kilometers), if the employee is on call for quick response to life- or property-threatening emergencies or if the employee has frequently responded to emergency calls in the past six months, the audit said.

The audit does not cover any additional use of the vehicle from June 30, 2018 until the lease ended on April 1 when auditors notified the secretary’s office the commuting use was not allowed.

In response to the audit, the secretary’s office said they agreed with the Legislative Audit Division that “routine private-personal use of state vehicles is not permitted” and that it would explain the state’s vehicle use rules as part of new employee training.

The audit also found the secretary’s office had three employees related through birth or marriage with one supervising the other. The supervision was changed after auditors raised questions, the report said.

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