MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WTVF) — Nearly a quarter of a million dollars is missing. That's according to state auditors who conducted an audit of former state Senator Bill Ketron's campaign spending. Ketron is now the mayor of Rutherford County.
The two audits ordered by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance looked at both Ketron's senate campaign account, as well as the account for the political action committee he ran while he was in the senate, known as Quest. The audits covered the time period of January of 2018 through July of last year. The reports containing the findings of the two audits are 69 pages and 59 pages, respectively.
They were shared with members of the Registry at their regularly scheduled meeting Monday morning.
According to the reports, auditors found more than $127,000 missing or unaccounted for from Ketron's senate campaign accounts. He also failed to report more than $15,000 that was used to pay off personal credit cards. Auditors also found more than $32,000 in reported payments by the campaign that never actually happened, including payments to the MTSU Foundation and a non-profit listed as Special Kids. Reported disbursements were also overstated. And, there were more than 80 reported expenditures that had no receipts, documentation or invoices totaling more than $20,000.
When auditors examined the Quest PAC accounts, they found similar issues, including $113,930 in unaccounted for or "missing" money.
Ketron's senate campaign throughout 2018 reported having more than $100,000 on hand, but bank records show the account had only $2,000 or less and often the balance was zero or the account was overdrawn.
The bank finally closed the account last year after records show the account was more than $16,000 overdrawn. Ketron's daughter, Kelsey, and her husband wrote personal checks to zero out that balance, and the auditor's report says that money had been used to pay off a personal credit card.
Kelsey Ketron served as her father's longtime campaign treasurer, and he says he trusted her to oversee the management of both his senate campaign and PAC accounts. Last year, she was charged with stealing more than $60,000 from the accounts. Those charges were later dismissed as part of a plea deal.
When both Ketrons were asked by auditors about the missing money, they "provided no additional information to justify or explain" the unaccounted for money, where it might be, or how there could be such a huge discrepancy.
In a letter to the Registry members sent in response to the audit findings, Bill Ketron wrote, "I feel I must state-very clearly and unequivocally-that I have never intentionally used funds donated to my campaigns for my own personal gain."
The Registry ordered the audits of Ketron's political accounts last year after NewsChannel 5 Investigates raised questions about how Ketron was spending his campaign money after Ketron repeatedly failed to file required spending reports with the state.
At the Registry's meeting this morning, there was minimal discussion of the audits other than the Executive Director Bill Young noting there were “significant findings” of “apparent violations” of campaign finance law. Before the board can take any action against Ketron, they must hold what’s known as a show cause hearing where Ketron appears before the board and has the opportunity to explain himself.
That has now been scheduled to happen at the Registry's meeting next April.
In the meantime, auditors are working to finish up an audit of Ketron's campaign account for his Rutherford County mayoral run. That audit is set to be finished by February.
Ketron still owes the Registry $80,000 in fines for failing to file the required spending reports for his campaign and PAC when they were due several years ago.