The Montana Division of Criminal Investigation has opened a preliminary probe into the potential misuse of county funds by a Granite County commissioner.
Scott Adler of Drummond has publicly admitted to and apologized for using county millings — recycled asphalt pavement — and equipment to pave his driveway, and has reimbursed the county $1,450.
An advertisement in the Philipsburg Mail on Sept. 21, signed by Adler and fellow commissioner Bill Slaughter, admitted to an “error in judgement.”
“In order to test a milling mulcher on some poor millings which we planned to use on county roads, we showed poor judgement in conducting the test on a commissioner’s personal property,” the ad read. “We acknowledge that this was wrong and any benefit to the property will be paid by that commissioner. We vow to never do it again.”
The county’s third commissioner and current chairman, Bart Bonney, didn’t sign the admission. According to the Mail, Bonney said at a commissioners' meeting Oct. 3 that he “wished the discussion to place the millings had been more clear.”
According to reports, the discussion to try out the milling mulcher on Adler's driveway occurred between Slaughter and Adler during a lull in a commissioners' meeting in Philipsburg. Bonney was talking with the county attorney at the time.
Some at the Oct. 3 hearing called for Adler's resignation.
“An apology doesn’t remedy the situation,” said Dan Villa of Philipsburg, who along with Lawrence Nelson and Jerry Koon of Hall placed the matter on the agenda.
In an email to the Missoulian, Granite County Attorney Blaine Bradshaw said he and Sheriff Scott Dunkerson “met and discussed the need for an independent investigation into the matter as we both work closely with the commissioners.”
Bradshaw emailed DCI Bureau Chief John Strandell, who he said is assigning an agent to handle the investigation. Attorney General Tim Fox’s office has agreed to review the findings when they’re complete.
“As proper here, I will let the independent investigation and the independent review take place. If charges are filed, it would be by an attorney with the Montana AG’s Office,” Bradshaw said.
A similar case occurred in eastern Montana in 2009. McCone County Commissioner Patrick Eggebrecht of Vida was charged with ordering the county roads department foreman to build a mile-long road to Eggebrecht's house. A county crew with three graders worked roughly 21 hours on the road before it was ordered to halt after a special meeting of county commissioners.
At the county attorney's request, the state Department of Justice prosecuted the case. Eggebrecht was initially charged with felony theft and misdemeanor official misconduct. The theft charge was dropped, and in February 2010 he pleaded guilty to official misconduct in district court in Circle. Eggebrecht was ordered to pay restitution of $5,350 and to immediately resign from office.
Adler was first elected to a six-year term as Granite County commissioner in 2010. He easily defeated a Republican challenger in the 2016 primary and ran opposed in the general election.
The flap stems from the paving job completed on Sept. 6 and 7. Adler admits he directed county equipment and four county workers to his home eight miles west of Drummond. The millings had sat in a pile on county property outside of Philipsburg, some 35 miles away, for more than a year.
Adler said Friday he was reluctant to comment on the state probe.
“There are so damn many rumors going around they told me to just kind of keep quiet until I figure out what’s going on,” he said, adding, “It’s just a lot of personal issues.”
No one from the state justice department had contacted him about the investigation, Adler said.
“I haven't even heard from anyone. They’re telling you guys (in the media) before they even contact me.”
Adler said he thought he was doing the county a favor when he and Slaughter reportedly agreed to try out the milling mulcher on his driveway.
“It wasn’t the right place to try it. If I screwed up, I’ll admit it,” he said. “I thought we were testing this piece of equipment, and it’s better to go try it there than do it on a county road and get sued.
“I thought I was doing the right thing," Adler added. "If I was going to do it for my own gain I would have took the better stuff in another pile that has oil in it.”
The driveway that was paved actually wasn’t even his, he said. “It’s my father-in-law’s. They keep saying it was for my own private use. Sure, I drive through, and I have to pay rent on the shop back there, but it’s not on my ground.”
Tim Allen, who covers local sports and news on his Granite County website QSPNlive, has posted photos and reports of the paving project he received from witnesses and neighbors. Allen said Adler’s count of county-owned vehicles used on the project has gone from one to six to as many as nine, assuming the county’s loader was used to load the millings.
Allen videotaped the Oct. 3 hearing and posted it with a report on his website at https://www.qspnlive.com/portal/qspnlive-com-channels/qspnlive-news-desk/qspn-breaking-stories/item/808-exclusive-granite-county-commissioners-meeting-fraud-session. He complied with a request from state investigators to supply them with the video, which runs for more than an hour.
“One of the things you can see in that meeting, the thing that really opens up the can of worms, is one of the residents asks if (Adler) has done this kind of thing before, and he says yeah,” said Allen. “Now the lid’s off the whole thing.”
“This is nothing new,” Elena Gagliano of Philipsburg told the Missoulian. "I think it’s gotten worse because nobody is there to oversee what they do."
Gagliano ran for a county commission seat in 2014 as a Libertarian. She lost resoundingly to Slaughter, a Republican and one-time Gallatin County sheriff who served as director of the Montana Department of Corrections during Gov. Judy Martz's tenure.
Gagliano said she used to video-record commissioners' meetings to encourage accountability. Government transparency was a central issue in her campaign in 2014.
"I really think Scott Adler should resign, he should be indicted and there should be a trial," Gagliano said. "And I think Mr. Slaughter should also resign, as an accomplice.”