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Audit dings Stapleton for improper use of state vehicle to ‘commute’ to Billings

Posted at 7:21 PM, Jun 18, 2019

HELENA — Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton improperly used a state vehicle to commute from Helena to his home in Billings, racking up 27,000 miles on the pickup truck during his first 18 months in office, a legislative audit says.

The audit, released late last week, said state law forbids employees from using state motor-pool vehicles to commute from their home to a worksite, with certain exceptions — none of which was met by Stapleton.

The audit said Stapleton’s office canceled its long-term lease of the state motor-pool vehicle as of April 1, after being notified of the violation.

The Legislative Audit Division also referred the matter to the state attorney general’s office, noting that it’s a misdemeanor for an employee to violate restrictions on state vehicles.

John Barnes, spokesman for the state Justice Department, told MTN News it’s reviewing the audit of Stapleton’s office.

In a written response to the audit dated June 6, Stapleton said his office agreed that “routine private-personal use of state vehicles is not permitted.”

Yet he also said the governor’s budget director approved long-term vehicle leases to “support agency missions,” and suggested use of the vehicle was related to “telework” and achieving the agency’s mission through “outreach and telework.”

Legislative Auditor Angus Maciver said approval of long-term leases to support agency missions “does not authorize the employee to commute to a telework site more than 30 miles from the residence.”

He also said the auditor’s findings focused on the use of a state vehicle to commute, not for telework.

Stapleton’s office had no comment Tuesday beyond his written response to the audit — except to confirm that he was the “employee” referred to in the audit on the vehicle use.

The audit said Stapleton used the pickup truck to commute to his “familial residence” in Billings and to “remote work locations” on at least 69 days, totaling 27,000 excess miles on the vehicle. The office paid at least $5,700 in usage charges related to commuting from January 2017 through June 2018, the audit said.

The audit was a routine financial-compliance audit by the Legislative Audit Division.

Under state law, Stapleton, as a statewide officeholder, must maintain a residence in Helena, but can have a “telework” site outside of Helena.

Stapleton, 51, was elected secretary of state in 2016. He’s a former state senator and financial adviser from Billings.

On Saturday, Stapleton said he’s running for Montana’s only U.S. House seat in 2020.

Story by Mike Dennison, MTN News