An audit released on Friday questioned about $848,000 in payments made by Cottonwood Rescue, a nonprofit emergency services provider serving southeast Houston County. 

Houston County Commission Chairman Brandon Shoupe acknowledged the mismanagement and misuse of taxpayer funds allocated to Cottonwood Rescue in January. Cottonwood Rescue’s President is Rickey Stokes, CEO of

According to the audit, expenses “not properly documented” included payments to an online casino and lingerie outlet, Adore Me.

“On June 28th, the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts released a Special Report on the Cottonwood Ambulance and Rescue Squad. This report identified $847,539.91 in ineligible and/or undocumented purchases or cash withdrawals from the restricted funds of that Rescue Squad,” Shoupe said on Monday. “Among the findings were undocumented cash withdrawals totaling $139,523.64 and payments to various vendors without proper documentation, including payments to an online casino. Following the examination, the state's Chief Examiner determined that evidence had been provided to constitute just cause for relieving charges in the amount of $692,531.81, leaving $155,008.10 that must be repaid by the organization's President, Ricky Stokes, to the Cottonwood Rescue Squad.”

Shoupe continued, “The Houston County Commission has maintained a firm stance since the inception of this investigation that such instances of misuse of public finances have no place in our community. The misuse of taxpayer funds, intended to ensure the safety and well-being of our citizens, is wholly unacceptable and deeply concerning.”

“As part of the standard procedure, it is our understanding that the State Examiners have certified the report, and these findings will be forwarded to the Attorney General of Alabama,” Shoupe said. “In the interim, the Houston County Commission will consult with its legal counsel and the EMS Association to determine the appropriate course of action moving forward.”

Stokes responded on his site to a local story on the audit by saying, “WTVY Ken Curtis is trying to sensationalize his headlines."

“There is not a million dollars unaccounted for in Cottonwood Rescue. And the $ 155,000.00 mentioned is being accounted for,” Stokes said. "In late 2017, when I took over Cottonwood Rescue, there was no money. From 2017 to 2021 the primary funding came from the business Stokes operated in order for EMS coverage. All questions will be answered and I am not worried. And Cottonwood Rescue funds did not go to pay for a pickup.”

The Rescue Squad received American Rescue Plan Act funds that are classified as public funds from state grants, appropriations from the Houston County Commission, and distributions from Houston County EMS Association collected by the Houston County Judge of Probate for tag fees, according to the audit.

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