Troubled sheriff Hutchinson indulges in meals and trips, taxpayers pick up tab

After his drunk driving crash in December, Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson went on a spending spree, eating and traveling at taxpayer expense, despite rarely being seen in the office.

The FOX 9 Investigators made a public records request for receipts and statements for his county-issued credit card, known as a P-card for purchasing.

During the four-month period between Dec. 23, 2021, and April 22, 2022, Hutchinson spent $17,588 with his P-card.

A person familiar with the use of purchase cards by former Hennepin County Sheriffs Rich Stanek and Mike McGowen said Hutchinson’s expenses are "extreme, and questionable on its face."

Reached by phone Thursday, Hutchinson said he was aware the county had been reviewing his purchases. 

"If they want to nickel and dime me for coffee, let them," he said before hanging up.

RELATED: Sheriff Hutchinson accused of creating hostile work environment, sending racist and homophobic texts

Hennepin County picks up the tab

Hutchinson’s meals at restaurants and coffee shops totaled $2,904.

Under Hennepin County’s food and beverage policy, expenditures should "not be a frequent occurrence and should be reasonable in amount."

Expense reports show Hutchinson was almost always dining with someone and ostensibly discussing law enforcement issues or county business. But in many cases, it is difficult to identify the people Hutchinson dined with because names on his P-card receipts are so frequently misspelled.

He dined 11 times during that four-month period at Good Day Café in Golden Valley spending a total of $667, records showed. Eight visits to Perkins totaled $282.

Other meals were more extravagant. On April 9, a Saturday, Hutchinson and three guests had a 6 p.m. dinner at the Downtowner Woodfire Grill in St. Paul. Two people ordered the special for $42.

The stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss mental health and elderly safety. The bill was $247.

Dinner at Big Bore Barbecue on April 13 to talk about "West Hennepin safety issues" came to $205.

A Lunch at Bunny’s Bar and Grill on Feb. 28 to plan a "water safety event" was $106.

Hutchinson’s expenditures at service stations for gasoline and car washes have also raised eyebrows for those inside the sheriff’s office. There are no itemized receipts but there are several receipts that are followed the next day by similar charges.  

For example, on Feb.18, Hutchinson got a car wash at Mister Car Wash in Edina ($21.51) and gasoline at an Exxon Mobil in Bloomington for $91.56. The next day, Feb. 19, he was getting more gas and sundries at a BP station in Bloomington ($45.09) and another car wash at Mister Car Wash ($43).

RELATED: Hutchinson case file shows sheriff repeatedly lied after 126 mph drunk-driving crash

11 Uber trips for a one-day conference

Before leaving office in January 2023, Hutchinson was hoping to burnish his resume and fashion himself into an expert on mental health, wellness, and crisis management, according to multiple sources familiar with his activities and stated motivations.

In February 2022, Hutchinson used his P-card to pay $2,150 for an online course through Harvard Professional Development in "Advanced Negotiation Skills." It is unknown if he attended the courses.

There was a three-day trip to Phoenix, Arizona, from March 31 to April 2 to attend a one-day conference on human trafficking on Friday, April 1. With hotel and air travel, the trip cost $2,700.

Even though his hotel was 3 miles from the conference and four miles from the airport, he took 11 Uber and Lyft rides at a total cost of $263.

Current and former members of the sheriff’s office command staff tell the FOX 9 Investigators Hutchinson is looking to relocate to Arizona.

During a video conference staff meeting in March, Hutchinson showed members of his staff properties he was considering buying in the Phoenix area, according to two people attending the meeting.

Seeking ‘payback’

It wasn’t just meals, trips, and training.

There were other items Hutchinson put on his P-card that might violate Hennepin County policy.

Taxpayers picked up Hutchinson’s dry cleaning for $89.74.

Hutchinson bought a portable white noise generator for $240. A member of his command staff said the sheriff was afraid people in the office could overhear his phone calls.

Current and former members of the sheriff’s command staff said the expenditures escalated after Hutchinson’s drunk driving crash in December when he totaled his county-issued SUV.

"He (Hutchinson) said if they’re going to make me pay back the SUV, he’s going to take the county for all he can," said a member of the sheriff's command staff who requested anonymity because he is afraid of workplace retaliation.

Hennepin County is garnishing Hutchinson’s annual salary of $186,000 by $250 a paycheck to recover the $47,711 cost of his 2021 Ford Explorer ST.

Hutchinson went on medical leave on May 18 and in a brief phone conversation Thursday, he confirmed he recently filed for PTSD disability.

Since his drunk driving episode, Hutchinson was seldom seen in the sheriff’s office, according to multiple sources in the office.

"He would come in and do a loop around the office once a week, and then he’d be gone. We had no idea where he was," said the official who estimated Hutchinson was seen in the office "at most" about five hours a week.

County seeks refunds

On April 22, Hennepin County Administration apparently had enough, canceling Hutchinson’s planned trips and training seminars. Then the county began requesting refunds.

Hutchinson’s trip to Atlanta May 1-3, for an undisclosed purpose, was refunded for $1,369 with airfare and lodging.

Another trip to Manchester, New Hampshire, on May 23 for a conference on law enforcement mental health and suicide was also canceled and a first-class ticket ($667) and the conference fee ($225) were refunded.

Hennepin County also received a refund for a $597 U.S. Concealed and Carry (USCC) course at Riverside Sporting Gear in Elk River that would allow Hutchinson to become a conceal and carry instructor. 

There was also a $250 refund from Glock Inc. for a course on how to maintain and service Glock pistols. Only Smith & Wesson handguns are authorized and approved for use for Hennepin County deputies, according to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Policy Manual.

Hennepin County Administrator David Hough would only confirm two complaints against Hutchinson and said state privacy laws prevent him from sharing details. Spokespersons for the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Hennepin County declined to answer detailed questions about the purported business or law enforcement purpose for several of Hutchinson’s expenditures.

FOX 9 reported Sunday that Hutchinson is currently the subject of a hostile and discriminatory workplace complaint from his command staff. Hennepin County hired an outside investigator to examine the hostile workplace allegations. It is not clear whether that investigator has prepared a report.

Statement from Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

A spokesperson for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office sent FOX 9 this statement on Wednesday:

"The 800 men and women of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) take great pride in serving our residents with integrity, empathy, compassion, and professionalism.

"We are deeply disappointed and disheartened by these allegations, as they run completely counter to our organization’s core values. The reported incidents are currently under investigation by an outside entity; therefore our ability to comment is limited.

"We want to assure the public and all of our partners that our deputies and civilian staff remain fully committed to improving public safety and fulfilling our organization’s overarching mission, which is to serve and protect all in our community by furthering equal justice, safety, and wellness."