PETERSBURG, Va -- Credit card statements showed Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford spent more than $20,000 last year to send herself and some of her employees to six conferences across the United States. The total is thousands of dollars more than other sheriff’s departments in the area.
Those statements showed charges for food, lodging and travel that can be tied to conferences in Las Vegas, Virginia Beach, Fort Worth, Tampa, Dallas and Portsmouth totaling $18,814.14.
The statements also showed an additional $4,855.20 of costs associated with the trips. Included in the trips, stays at the Paris Las Vegas Casino for the National Commission on Correctional Health Care Fall Convention, and the four diamond Omni Fort Worth for the National Sheriff’s Association Annual Conference.
The credit card statements also showed two charges at Legends Dallas Cowboys for $84 during a trip to Dallas for the American Jail Association’s 33rd Annual Training Conference and Jail Expo.
Crawford said those charges were for meals during a tour of the stadium.
Taxpayers in Petersburg said they were surprised by the numbers. “It's questionable to me,” Rosemary Alais, a Petersburg taxpayer said.
“That's hard to explain, I'd like to have an explanation.” William Bland III, a Petersburg taxpayer said.
While the city of Petersburg did not want to comment on the sheriff's charges, we did speak with multiple high ranking city officials who didn`t want to be identified, but told us there is a high level of concern about the sheriff's spending.
Crawford declined our request for an on camera interview to discuss the spending, but she agreed to talk to us off camera. Crawford said the spending was legitimate, and said the conference trips are for training, staff development and networking.
“What was that training, and what was so essential, and what do we have to show for it?” Alais said.
Crawford said staff members who go must present something they learned at the conference that they can implement in Petersburg.
“I’m aware that taxpayers are paying for this. We go with the intent of bringing something that would benefit this community back,” Crawford said.
For comparison’s sake, we requested the amount of taxpayer dollars other sheriff’s departments spent to send their sheriff and other staff members to conferences last year.
- In Richmond, taxpayers spent $4,000.
- In Henrico, taxpayers spent $2,965.80.
- In Chesterfield, taxpayers spent $766.17.
Tangela Innis, Purchasing Agent with the city of Petersburg said Crawford, as a constitutional officer, did not need prior approval to make those charges.
“They have the authority to make the decisions as they see fit with the credit card,” Innis said.
“So they didn`t have to check in with anyone?” CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit asked.
“No,” Innis said.
William Bland III, who owns several businesses in Petersburg, said he thinks those dollars should instead go toward education in a city that is one of the poorest in the state.
“That's utterly ridiculous when we have kids that need education, kids don't even take their books home,” Bland said.
The City of Petersburg is now changing its credit card policy.
Innis said all city-issued credit cards will be taken away from employees this month, and replaced with purchasing and travel cards that will require prior approval before use.
The money for purchases will be loaded onto those cards once approval is granted.