The 10-month investigation of Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock appears totally ended with the decision not to seek criminal charges by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Przbylinski told an investigator from the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation that she reviewed the investigative file (on Pelock) and was declining to prosecute.
The federal decision to not seek criminal charges against the highway commissioner followed a decision made in December by Crawford County District Attorney Timothy Baxter to not seek state criminal charges against the highway commissioner.
A 97-page copy of that investigative report released by the DCI sheds some light on the origin and nature of the allegations against Pelock.
The report indicates the investigation began following a request to DCI on April 20, 2012 from Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick. The sheriff told DCI that he had received information from Sharolyn (Sherry) Jazdzewski, an administrative assistant for the county highway department, that when the county suffered flood damage in 2007 and 2008, Crawford County Highway Commissioner Dennis Pelock ordered county employees to use county equipment to cause additional damage to roads and bridges in order to qualify for additional Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding.
McCullick also told the DCI investigators that it was alleged Pelock brought his personal vehicles to the county garage for maintenance and repairs and charged that work back to other county vehicles.
In the next four months, DCI investigators proceeded to interview 12 individuals, including Jazdzewski and Pelock, about those allegations. Others interviewed by the DCI Agents included former Crawford County Sheriff Jerry Moran, Crawford County Director of Emergency Government Roger Martin, as well as current and former highway department workers. Additionally, the investigators interviewed several officials with the Wisconsin’s Division of Emergency Management.
The allegation that county workers intentionally damaged bridges and roads to increase the county’s FEMA claims was never substantiated by any of those interviewed, according to documents included in the investigative file.
Several witnesses confirmed hearing about instances of flood damage claims being “stretched” to areas that were in need of repair, but not damaged by floods. A couple of those interviewed claimed to have direct knowledge of specific incidents where this occurred. However, only one of those interviewed provided an exact location of where he thought this occurred. In that instance, the interviewee believed new drainage tubes were used to replace the tubes that were removed, but still could have been used.
Another person interviewed indicated that he believed coding on time sheets put down originally by highway department workers as general maintenance was re-coded to indicate the work was the result of flood damage.
In his interview with DCI agents, Pelock defended his actions and noted the flood damage to roads in 2007 resulted in total damages of $1,014,202 and in 2008 that damage amounted to $260,000. FEMA covered 75 percent of that damage, the state paid for 12.5 percent and the county paid the remaining 12.5 percent.
Pelock also told the investigators the only reason coding was changed on timesheets for the work in 2007 and 2008 involving flood damage was because it had been mistakenly entered by the workers.
The highway commissioner provided the DCI investigators with documentation relating to repairs of his personal vehicle, both what he personally paid and also what the county paid. And copies of those receipts were included in the DCI investigation report. The highway commissioner told the investigators that he was allowed to use his personal vehicle for county work and received $500 per month as a reimbursement.
In a related matter, Sherry Jazdzewski, the former administrative assistant at the highway department who initially made contact with Crawford County Sheriff Dale McCullick about the allegations of misconduct against Pelock, was subsequently terminated.
Jazdzewski appealed her termination and the matter is now before an impartial hearing officer Greg Lunde, the corporate counsel for Vernon County. Part of Jazdzewski’s appeal hearing concerning a written reprimand that she received was concluded months ago with no decision rendered yet.
The appeal hearing on the termination itself has yet to be heard. Two previously scheduled hearings were canceled, first by a snowstorm and then by a severe case of flu contracted by Jazdzewski. The appeal of the termination hearing scheduled for this week was also cancelled on the advice of Jazdzewski’s doctor because of a situation arising from the recent birth of her child. The appeal hearing for the termination has been rescheduled for Tuesday, March 12.