Lancaster County Sheriff Chris Leppler on Tuesday forcefully defended his use of a county-issued credit card, the subject of recent LNP | LancasterOnline reporting, saying that various items he purchased with the card in 2023 were accounted for and that a newspaper story unfairly implied otherwise.

It was the first time Leppler spoke publicly about items purchased with his card, despite repeated questions sent to him ahead of April 20, when LancasterOnline published a story about the county controller’s office’s work to improve oversight of the “purchase card,” or p-card, program.

Leppler’s p-card purchases were a focus of the story because many of his 25 different transactions last year did not indicate the purpose for thousands of dollars in spending. Two previous county audits, in 2023 and 2019, found poor rates of compliance and a lack of clear policies governing the use of county-issued cards generally.

Among the purchases the April 20 story highlighted was about $3,000 spent by the sheriff on construction materials and other items at Home Depot.

Reading from a prepared statement during Tuesday’s commissioners work session, Leppler called the reporting “scurrilous” and “baseless,” and he accused the reporter of being biased against Republican officeholders.

“We provide the required documentation for every purchase that was made, period,” Leppler said.

Leppler, backed by Commissioners Josh Parsons and Ray D’Agostino, repeatedly said the LNP story was written deliberately to mislead readers that the sheriff had stolen or improperly purchased items with taxpayer money.

“The underlying assertion in it was that (Leppler) or someone else in the sheriff’s office had stolen these things, and that was false, that was a lie, and it was easily ascertainable that that was a lie,” Parsons said.

But in the month since LNP | LancasterOnline first contacted Leppler on April 1 to ask about his p-card purchases, he has declined to be interviewed or answer any questions on the subject.

Among the questions the sheriff and commissioners office did not respond to before the publication of the April 20 story were about a lobby area inside the sheriff’s offices in the courthouse.

County Controller Lisa Colón last month told LNP Leppler’s Home Depot purchases last year were for building that reception area. Based on Colón’s statement, the reporter visited the lobby area on April 17 and did not see the items listed in the Home Depot receipts.

Leppler on Tuesday said the lobby work was actually completed in 2020. On Tuesday, Colón blamed a misunderstanding. She said she hadn’t asked the sheriff specifically about 2023 purchases and that her conversation with him was more general.

“I said, ‘What are the various expenses from Home Depot? I know that you were doing work in your office,’ He says, ‘That was for the reception area,’” Colón said after the meeting Tuesday. “But I believe he was not pinpointing it to only 2023, and I didn't know when the reception area had been done, I was just asking a blanket (question), So I think there’s confusion.”

Colón acknowledged LNP | LancasterOnline had asked her about Home Depot purchases from 2023.

Leppler and the two Republican commissioners did not directly dispute other details of the April 20 story, including multiple instances in which Leppler’s purchases showed no clear account of what they were for and that two past audits of the overall p-card program by the controller’s office showed frequent compliance failures among a sample of purchases and no clear policies, or disciplinary measures, governing their use.

Purchases explained

Leppler said over the last six years his staff completed construction projects inside his office, and that they were overseen by the county’s facilities management department. He said county officials provided him spending figures showing that his staff had performed more than a half-a-million dollars worth of construction work for less than $40,000. He did not share how those savings were calculated.

The April 20 story mentioned a $114.32 purchase of gray vinyl flooring, 40 square feet in size, according to a Home Depot receipt from Feb. 13, 2023. Leppler said he had purchased vinyl flooring for an “arms room, two offices and in our K-9 unit,” but didn’t tie that work to any purchases from 2023.

Garage shelving is used for items for the department’s fleet of 22 vehicles, Leppler said. “They replaced orange lockers which had to be at least 50-plus years old and were rusted and falling apart,” he said.

Leppler referred to two commercial-grade water hoses mentioned in the April 20 story, saying they were mounted in the department’s garage. “The hoses have multiple uses, such as washing out the rear of our transport vans when inmates use them as a restroom, or when the inmates get sick,” Leppler said.

Cleaning products bought at Home Depot by Leppler are for cleaning when the county’s contractor is not available, the sheriff said.

T-shirts and apparel purchases in 2023 bought on Leppler’s p-card were for deputies and staff when not in uniform to represent the office, he said. Leppler spent more than $3,200 on that apparel in 2023, according to payment records. Branded merchandise for sale in the sheriff’s reception area are for the department’s K-9 unit, which receives donations from the proceeds of those merchandise sales, Leppler said.

The sheriff said an April 2023 receipt showing 30 YETI mugs purchased from Dick’s Sporting Goods for $1,123.50 was for gifts to staff retiring or a token of appreciation for deputies who represent the office well and an attempt at improving morale, he said.

And he said a clothing order from the company “Fivoux Apparel” was for staff and deputies to represent the department at outside functions and in public appearances, but did not address that the receipt he submitted for the $1,020 order, which only said “LCSO x 1.”

Moving forward

In his prepared remarks, Leppler said he would no longer answer questions from the LNP | LancasterOnline reporter who wrote the April 20 story. Commissioner Ray D’Agostino, later in the meeting, said he would no longer answer the reporter’s questions no matter what the venue.

Commissioner Alice Yoder said only that the April 20 LNP story prompted county leaders to look into improving oversight of p-cards.

“I think the one thing that came out of this was, I believe, that we're looking at the policy just to see if we can tighten it up in some way, you know. It will help, I think, all of us, and so that's always a good thing,” Yoder said.

Colón said at the Tuesday meeting that she can take action herself against suspected fraud or theft and that she can also refer a suspected case to the district attorney and the commissioners office.

“At no point, at any time, up to any audits that we have done, we have not noticed any of that,” Colón said, though she said audits look at sample sizes of purchases, not all of them.

Watch: The exchanges described in the story begin at timecode 00:53:45 in this video posted online by the county.

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