State auditor announces plan to file bill requiring prison time for felony theft

Rob Sand spoke to Allison Wong of KCRG-TV9 in Dubuque on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Charlie...
Rob Sand spoke to Allison Wong of KCRG-TV9 in Dubuque on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Charlie Grant, KCRG-TV9)(KCRG)
Published: Sep. 26, 2019 at 2:53 PM CDT
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10 days after a report from the I9 investigative team found that most special audits do not lead to criminal prosecution, Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand says he plans to put a bill before legislators that will change that.

I9 uncovered, after analyzing 67 of the most recent special investigative reports released by the State Auditor's Office, that only around 40% of total special investigations, going back to January 2017, have led to criminal prosecution. To put it another way, that means no one is being held responsible for at least $8 million worth of improperly used funds.

In I9's original report, Sand had said he thought a change in Iowa Code is needed to make sure there is greater enforcement of serious financial crimes. Sand also indicated he would like to see mandatory prison time for anyone convicted of a serious financial crime in Iowa.

On Thursday, Sand announced to I9 his plan is to pre-file a bill that would require mandatory time behind bars for anyone convicted of felony theft of taxpayer money or tax credits. Thefts over $1,500 are a felony.

Sand says his bill will not have a mandatory minimum sentence but aims to stop sentences for serious financial crimes that only include probation.

This is the first bill that Sand has ever filed as State Auditor.

"I think the policy will give county attorneys controls that they need to make these prosecutions more realistic and more achievable in their offices," said Sand.

Black Hawk County attorney, Brian Williams, who also told I9 in our original report he too wanted to see a change in Iowa Code, says while he does not think Sand's idea will make it easier for prosecutors to bring more white-collar crimes to court, he does believe it will hold those convicted of high dollar thefts accountable.

"In my opinion, he is correct that this is a well-needed change," Williams said in a written statement.

I9 brought our reports findings, and the comments originally made by Sand and Williams, to the attention of both state lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.

Most elected leaders expressed to I9 that they were open to Sand's suggestions, among them Republican representative from Marion, Ashley Hinson. Hinson tells I9 she is seeking input from county attorneys about our reports and the ideas that Sand put forth in it.

"I will work with our county attorneys and look at our criminal code to see what is needed to make sure people who hurt people are held accountable," said Hinson.

Linn County Democratic State Senator, Liz Mathis says she is interested in seeing Sand's bill.

"Over the course of the next few months, yes, I would certainly take a look at this issue, have conversations with Auditor Sands and other experts before drafting and filing a bill," Mathis said in a written statement.

Delaware County Republican Dan Zumbach expressed concerns about the statements Sand made in our story.

"It concerns me Auditor Sands wants to be Judge, jury, prosecutor, and criminal sentencer when he is simply the auditor. I will check to see if he can remain impartial or if any ethics violations have been broken by Auditor Sands. His comments put into question his ability to remain impartial," said Zumbach in a written statement.

Sand said in response to Zumbach, "I think if saying we need to make sure that people who steal taxpayer money is somehow the wrong thing to say then I don't want to be right."

Sand also announced Thursday he had hired on to his staff two former members of law enforcement. They include former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services special agent, Blair Johnston, and former Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division investigator, Holly Ewing.