Money management issues, political aspirations lead to undersheriff's resignation

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SAGINAW (WJRT) (3/6/2019) - Former Saginaw County Undersheriff Phil Hart has political aspirations, but issues with how the sale of a horse was handled also led to his resignation this week.

The sheriff's office purchased the horse last year for the Mounted Division and recently sold it back from the county to the seller. Hart said what happened next is part of why he's stepping down.

Hart is planning to run for office in Genesee County, but he does not want to disclose what office he is seeking. However, the longtime law enforcement administrator is willing to discuss the situation involving Sonny the horse.

"I questioned the need, I guess is the best way to put it -- the need for the horse," Hart said.

Saginaw County Sheriff Bill Federspiel purchased Sonny last May, at first with taxpayer money, but he says a donation of $5,000 from AT&T eventually covered the cost for the horse and equipment.

Federspiel planned to ride Sonny whenever he was with the sheriff's department posse. However, the horse was sold back to the original seller in October because it wasn't performing well.

"The horse itself did not meet with the standards that would be necessary to be utilized in that capacity," Hart said.

The sheriff's posse received a $2,500 check for Sonny, but kept the equipment. The money was first put into the sheriff's posse account, but the money was moved out of that account and given to the county.

Federspiel confirmed an internal investigation is under way to determine how the money was moved. He planned on buying another horse, but now that the money was forwarded to the county, it can't be used for the purchase.

A sergeant is on paid administrative leave while the investigation continues.

Hart said when he was made aware the money was moved, he became concerned.

"It was put in one place and someone moved it to another location, and my concern was when money gets moved around like that, it looks messy," he said. "There could be something on the backside if an investigation is thoroughly done. I don't really believe there is anything illegal at all, it just looks messy."

Despite his resignation, Hart said he remains on good terms with Federspiel.

"I have an excellent relationship with him," Hart said. "He's doing a very good job up there."

Saginaw County Controller Robert Belleman said for now, the county is keeping the $2,500 because there were extra expenses in boarding and caring for the horse before it was sold.