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State probes sheriff 's spending

GUILDHALL, Vt. -- The state is investigating a former sheriff who doled out nearly $25,000 in Christmas bonuses to employees as he left office, handing $2,500 to his dispatcher wife and $1,500 to a daughter who was also on the payroll, according to a report.

Former Essex County Sheriff Amos Colby, who left office at the end of December after 20 years, gave out the bonuses Dec. 20, a state audit found last month. Now, state Attorney General William Sorrell and state Auditor Thomas Salmon are looking into the payments.

"I think it's fair to say that the best I can say about it is that it smells," Sorrell told WCAX-TV. The new sheriff asked for a review of the payments, according to Sorrell, who said yesterday it was unclear whether any laws had been broken.

He said the payments were apparently approved by Essex County judges, who set the county's budget.

"It's one thing if they're legal versus illegal and another if they're right from the public policy sense," Sorrell said.

Yesterday, Salmon joined Lamoille County Sheriff Roger Marcoux, president of the Vermont Sheriffs' Association, in issuing a new accounting manual to be used by Vermont sheriffs.

"Along with the accounting manual, we will also be recommending new attention to policies and procedures addressing the issue of employee recognition and merit bonus payments," Salmon said.

Colby defended the payments, saying they were well deserved by "longtime dedicated employees who had worked countless overtime hours for free."