BOISE — A southwestern Idaho prosecutor is scrutinizing whether state Treasurer Ron Crane broke the law by using a state credit card to fuel up a personal vehicle he drives to and from the Capitol, and on short excursions to grocery stores or church.
Canyon County prosecutor Bryan Taylor confirmed that Idaho Legislative Services auditors who have been reviewing the financial records of Crane’s office for months have forwarded their preliminary findings to him.
“They’ve asked us to see if any criminal offense took place within Canyon County’s jurisdiction,” Taylor said. “We’re fairly early into that investigation.”
Legislative Service audits division manager Don Berg declined comment, saying he’s awaiting Taylor’s conclusions before releasing the audit of Crane’s office.
The audit is conducted at least once every three years, by state law.
Crane claims he’s saving the state money by using a personal car. However, he doesn’t keep a detailed record or logbook to show everywhere he drove using gas paid for by taxpayers.
Crane has hired attorney David Leroy, a former Idaho attorney general, to represent him after auditors alerted current Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office about concerns that Crane’s activities may have broken the law.
“As a former prosecutor, I can state that these kinds of policy and practice review questions are occasionally presented to public council for review,” Leroy said Tuesday. “I would anticipate that the Canyon County prosecutor will conclude this involves questions of public policy and that no finding of criminal conduct will be made.”
Leroy contends that Crane — as an elected official and not just a state employee — has the discretion to make decisions about the most-efficient and cost-effective means of organizing his official travel.
According to Idaho government policy, use of state vehicles for personal business is strictly prohibited. While personal vehicles may be used for official business in some situations, state policy indicates the cost of travel should be reimbursed at a state-approved rate — currently 45.5 cents per mile — with the mileage computed according to approved state or national maps.
Crane didn’t turn in mileage reimbursements, instead using his state card to buy fuel.
The bill for Crane’s state Chevron card over the last three years totaled about $6,900, according to documents obtained through a public records request.
The bill was about $2,030 in 2009, $2,875 in 2010 and $1,980 for the first nine months of 2011.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Crane said he’s used a state Chevron card with a $1,500 spending limit to fill up his own car since February 2005, when he gave up a state-provided vehicle in a bid to save Idaho taxpayers money.
Crane said he only uses gasoline paid for by Idaho taxpayers for commuting to the Capitol, as well as for other official business. Personal travel, he said, is paid out of his own pocketbook.
Crane, a four-term Republican, lives in Nampa, 25 miles from the Capitol. He considers driving to and from work state business, he said. For stops along the way, including at the grocery store, he doesn’t differentiate between state or personal business.
“Or if I’m just in the city of Nampa, with incidental running to the post office, or to church, or something like that, I don’t delineate,” Crane told the AP in November. “But, if I take a trip to Cascade, because we have a (vacation) place in Cascade, I’ve used my personal card to fill that up. If I drive to Lewiston to see my daughter, I put that on my personal card. I can demonstrate that with financial records. That’s the way I’ve done it for the entire time” since selling the state car in 2005.
Crane contends that giving up the state car provided to the treasurer, then filling up his own car with the state Chevron card, has saved Idaho taxpayers roughly $32,500 over six years in leasing and maintenance costs. That’s why Crane said he was taken aback when he learned auditors had reported concerns to the Idaho attorney general.
“I was dumbfounded, to be quite honest,” Crane said, adding only on one occasion did somebody else fill up the vehicle using the state card — when his wife retrieved him from the Boise Airport as he returned from official business.
A review of other Idaho state elected officials’ commuting patterns shows differences.
Wasden commutes in a state-provided car from Nampa and pays for fuel with a state credit card, much like Crane did before 2005.
Gov. Butch Otter drives a personal vehicle to and from the Capitol “80 percent of the time” and pays for his own fuel, his office said. His Idaho State Patrol detail sometimes picks him up at his home in Star and brings him to official events, Otter spokesman Jon Hanian said.
For their commutes, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa say they pay for their own fuel in personal cars.
Controller Donna Jones drives her own vehicle back and forth from Payette, about 120 miles roundtrip. Her office said she doesn’t claim mileage.