St. Louis sheriff's brother received pay raises, prompting calls - KMOV.com

St. Louis sheriff's brother received pay raises, prompting calls for an investigation

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Sheriff Vernon Betts (KMOV) Sheriff Vernon Betts (KMOV)

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- There's been a new sheriff in town in St. Louis since January: Sheriff Vernon Betts.

Betts' office is one of which people are often unaware. Its main function, as evidenced right after the Jason Stockley trial, is to protect the courts. They don't police the streets but after other elected officials, current and former employees, questioned the new sheriff's choices in staffing, News 4 started investigating. We obtained records of every employees’ salary and found a familiar last name: Betts.

Howard Betts, Vernon's brother, was hired by the previous sheriff but since Sheriff Betts took office, Howard has gotten two raises in pay. Based on News 4’s calculations, Howard received a higher overall percentage of an increase in pay, it appears, than any other of the other approximately 160 employees in the office with about a 7 percent raise.

Not a lot, but enough for some to be upset and others wonder if it violates the law. We sat down with the sheriff. He denies doing anything wrong, saying there is no nepotism in his department. Sheriff Betts says Howard got more money because he got increased job duties, doing timesheets for his specific unit.

"There were three other people who had more seniority than my brother, neither of them were capable of doing the timesheets properly, so the work defaulted to him, because of his seniority, it had nothing to do with him being my brother," said Sheriff Betts.

Howard Betts then got another yearly raise.

“It’s highly questionable,” said Curtis Kalin with the group Citizens Against Government Waste, who spoke with News 4 from Washington DC.

Kalin says whenever an elected official gives a raise to a family member, it can erode the public's trust.

"I have a hard time believing the sheriff's brother was the only one qualified to do these duties," he said.

Kalin thinks it warrants an investigation for possible violations of the law. 

“At bare minimum, the appearance of impropriety is enough to say no to this,” he said.

Portions of Missouri law do govern nepotism by elected officials. That very law cost city Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter her seat in 2014 after hiring a great-nephew for a side job in the office.

"I think it's worth looking at. I think all of us elected officials are under microscopes," said city Alderman Larry Arnowitz. 

Arnowitz, a former sheriff's deputy, says the sheriff's actions raise some red flags. But whether it's illegal: “I think that's something the Circuit Attorney needs to decide,” Arnowitz said.

Sheriff Betts says they consulted attorneys and he's not concerned.

“No, I am not concerned, because my staff, all my deputies know I am fair and honest and they know that the work defaulted to Howard, because he was the only person there at the time, capable of doing it,” he said.

The Circuit Attorney's office tells News 4 the matter is under review. A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office says Howard Betts’ most recent raise was a scheduled raise, required by law.

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