Stillwater News Press

October 2, 2013

DA warns Payne County officials about using county cellphones for personal calls

By Nick Woodruff
Stillwater NewsPress

STILLWATER, Okla. — District Attorney Tom Lee has warned Payne County officials to stop using county-issued cellphones for personal use or face a criminal investigation and possible charges.

In a Sept. 20 letter to all elected county officials, Lee said using county cellphones for personal use violated county policies and state and federal statutes.

This policy warns personal calls may be a violation of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma and a violation of Internal Revenue Service Codes. Also, such use may violate Oklahoma’s Criminal Laws, 21 O.S. § 341.

“I am hoping that this notice will serve as a warning against personal use of county telephones,” Lee wrote in the letter.

In a NewsPress interview, Lee said he hoped the letter would stop the misuse of county-issued cellphones and prevent a lengthy and expensive criminal investigation.

“If the request (of the letter) is not complied with, there could be a criminal investigation,” Lee said. “It could be an issue of embezzlement of state funds.”

A phone audit conducted on two purchase orders between April 24 and June 23 brought the cellphone use issue to light. It uncovered numerous calls to family members and others made on a county cellphone with the number 405-780-5300.

County Commission Chairman Chris Reding confirmed the number belongs to the county cellphone issued to him. Reding took office Jan. 1 as the District 2 county commissioner.

Payne County pays $85.59 a month for Reding to use a county-issued cellphone. Reding said he also carries a personal cellphone with him. The AT&T phone statement indicates the county’s cellphone plan has unlimited talk and texting.

Reding said calls made and received from his wife pertain to county business although she isn’t a county employee.

“Those are business calls,” Reding said. “I’m letting her know what aspects of work are going on and how it relates to other plans we may have. She also calls me to let me know things that are important to my job.”

The county’s purchase order forms contain a column to note if the call is work related or not.

Calls or texts from Reding’s wife and child are marked “No” in the work-related column on the purchase order forms.

From April 24 through May 23, Reding talked for 251 minutes and sent or received 24 text messages on his county cellphone. He talked to his wife five times for eight minutes and received or sent seven text messages. He also received a one-minute call from his child.

From May 24 through June 23, Reding talked for 271 minutes on his county-issued cellphone. He made or received 216 text messages and received 11 picture/video messages.

He talked to his wife five times for a total of 34 minutes. He received or sent 49 text messages and received eight picture/video messages from his wife.

If a personal call was made, it wouldn’t cost the county any money because of his unlimited plan, Reding said.

“There is not a cost to the county even if there was a personal call,” Reding said.