Hoke County probe turning into a legal standoff

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Finger-pointing and accusations are flying as a Hoke County probe continues.

The fraud investigation in Hoke County has become a war of words -- and will.

Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said an independent accounting firm doing an internal investigation is hampering an SBI investigation into allegations of payroll fraud, while the attorney for the Hoke County commissioners says the sheriff is dragging his feet on purpose.

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"The only exception that is prohibiting them from completing their work is the fact that the sheriff is withholding time sheets," said Jonathan Charleston, commissioners' attorney.

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Those time sheets are critical evidence. In February, SBI agents raided county offices searching payroll records and time sheets that may have been altered for one possibly more county employees.

A deputy was later fired, and a county employee resigned. The county hired outside accountants to do an internal investigation. The sheriff says this goes beyond time-sheet fraud.

"In my 30 years, I've never seen an independent organization come in and basically play police," said Sheriff Peterkin. "They need to get out of the way and let the SBI do their job."

But Charleston, the attorney, said it's the sheriff who's getting in the way, refusing to turn over his department's time sheets.

"Those time sheets, in their unaltered forms, will be compared to time sheets maintained in the files of the county," Charleston said. "And the reason is comparison is necessary to determine if there are any discrepancies."

But Peterkin said the independent accountants aren't entitled to his department's records.

"And he wants to get hold of sheriff's office documents, and all the evidence and things that's in the case," Peterkin said. "But we are not going to allow that. I won't allow it."

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Charleston said that without the time sheets, the county's internal investigation is basically stalled. Both sides say the SBI probe could take several months.

The issue is expected to be a hot topic, at next Monday nights' county commissioners meeting.

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