Palmetto, Florida - According to an internal investigation released Thursday into activities at the Manatee County Jail farm, employees could simply borrow county-owned equipment--items like weed whackers and chain saws--take them home for personal use as long as they were returned in a timely manner.

Problem is, an anonymous whistle blower says some of that property was never returned and some of the items went far beyond small garden equipment.

The allegations centered around three former employees who worked at the county jail's inmate farm: Major James Higginbotham, Sgt. Buddy Parks and his wife deputy Rhonda Parks.

Among the allegations:

  • Claims county purchased 2 x 6 wooden boards were taken to build a fence on personal property
  • Hay and horse feed was taken routinely to feed the employees privately owned horses and cows
  • Hundreds of eggs taken from the jail's farm and given to employee family members around Easter and the 4th of July

There was even free inmate labor, with multiple witnesses saying one employee had a personal hunting trailer built, another got free furniture from the wood shop, a practice normally requiring payment to the inmate commissary fund.

All three employees have since left the sheriff's office and will get full retirement benefits.

The State Attorney's Office decided not to file criminal charges noting violations of jail policy but citing a lack of proof any crime actually occurred.

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