NAVAJO AND COCONINO COUNTIES — Details have emerged about the legal jeopardy that on-leave Navajo County Public Health Director Jeffrey P. Lee has found himself in regarding the questionable use of public monies in both Navajo and Coconino Counties. Lee served with the Coconino County Public Health Public Services District before taking the director’s position in Holbrook in April 2017.
In May 2020, The Independent reported on an audit by the Arizona Auditor General about irregular charges Lee made to Navajo County in the fiscal year 2019 which ended on June 30, 2019. In the end, Lee repaid to that county a net amount of $3,965 which amount was the total of improperly claimed expenses less legitimate mileage expenses Lee was entitled to but never asked reimbursement for.
Lee’s statements to the auditor urged simple mistakes on his part, like taking the wrong credit card out of his wallet when he bought something, to mistakenly not following reporting procedures like getting verbal but not written permission for some expenses, or in failing to fill out the right form when using the county credit card, such as the form documenting the specific public purpose of a particular expenditure.
All seemed understandable and at the time, and Assistant County Manager Bryan Layton stated that the county appreciated the Auditor’s efforts and that “Auditors helped identify some purchases which did not comply with the required approval process.” As stated, Lee paid the county back and that appeared to be the end of it.
But in the meantime, the same Auditor General started looking into Lee’s actions while he was with Coconino County. The result was a 16-count indictment against Lee alleging seven counts of theft, ranging from Class 2 Felonies to one Class 1 Misdemeanor, (depending on the dollar amount of the alleged theft) seven counts of fraudulent schemes, Class 4 Felonies, and two counts of violations of duties of a custodian of public monies, Class 4 Felonies as well.
The theft charges relate to purchases that the authorities believe were illegal. For example, it is alleged that Lee had the county pay a boat storage place for 14 months, claiming that “emergency supplies” were stored there. The auditor says it was a “27’ travel trailer,” and Lee’s home address is on the lease; Coconino County is not. Also, Lee charged to the county $82,550 for gift cards, family cell phones, clothing, and an Apple watch, not to mention the 14-cubic foot freezer and clothes dryer that were allegedly delivered to Lee’s home.
The seven counts of fraudulent scheme arise from the seven times that the authorities believe Lee cooked the books about his purchases by falsifying records. The two counts of mishandling public monies are catch-all charges about Lee’s alleged activities over the span of time the auditor examined; namely, between October 2014 and December 2016 in Coconino County, and between March 2019 and September 2019 in Navajo County. In total, it is alleged that three of the 16 counts occurred in Navajo County, the rest in Coconino.
The Arizona Attorney General filed the grand jury’s indictment in Coconino County Superior Court on Dec. 15, 2020. That is curious considering that the Auditor General’s Office didn’t send its report to the Attorney General until December 29, 2020, according to the cover letter. Lee has retained as defense counsel Ryan J. Stevens of Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC out of Flagstaff. Stevens filed a notice of appearance Monday and entered a plea of not guilty for Lee. As of yet, there is no pending court date.