Comptroller catches government thieves in Claiborne, Fayette, Jefferson, Sumner counties

The ever-vigilant state comptroller’s office reports finding thievery afoot at Powell Valley Elementary School in Claiborne County, the city recorder’s office in the Sumner County city of Gallatin, a parks office and a school system Fayette County and at the New Market Volunteer Fire Department in Jefferson County in recent auditing of local government entities.

There are also “several questions” about activities at the town of Oakland in Fayette County generally along with the indictment of an official who worked both for the town and as athletic director of Fayette County schools.

News release from comptroller’s office on the Powell Valley case:

An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has resulted in the indictment of Teresa Poston, the former bookkeeper at Powell Valley Elementary School. Poston stole at least $6,694 from the school over a two year period.

Investigators determined that Poston used three different schemes to carry out the theft.

These included failing to record and deposit cash that was collected by the school’s cheerleading and dance teams, failing to deposit money from a school wide fundraiser, and substituting unrecorded checks for cash collections and keeping the cash for her own benefit.

Poston admitted to investigators that she took the cash for her personal use. She resigned her position on January 13, 2017.

Additionally, Poston created collection records from athletic events and fabricated teachers’ signatures on these records. Poston counted, receipted and deposited these funds without anyone else verifying their accuracy. As a result, there is an extraordinarily high risk that additional school money was stolen or misused.

In April 2017, Teresa Poston was indicted by the Claiborne County Grand Jury on one count of theft of property over $2,500.

“The key factor involved in so many of these cases is allowing one person to have total control of collecting, recording and depositing all of the money,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “If we want to reduce fraud, government entities must get serious about separating duties and improving oversight.”

 News release on the Gallatin case:

An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller has found that former Gallatin administrative assistant Jennifer Morris stole at least $1,173 from the city recorder’s office.

Investigators determined that Morris stole the money between June 2016 and December 2016 by withholding cash that she collected and by taking funds from her cash drawer.

Morris concealed her actions by manipulating the city’s accounting system. Also, in at least one instance, she removed an entire page of duplicate receipts from the city’s manual receipt book. One of the missing receipts documented her collection of a cash property tax payment that she stole.

Because of the nature of her scheme, it is possible additional money may be missing which has not been detected.

Morris admitted to Comptroller investigators that she took city funds for her personal use. She said she took the money to pay personal bills and expenses. She was terminated from her position on December 5, 2016.

In April 2017, Jennifer Morris was indicted by the Sumner County Grand Jury on one count of theft over $1,000 and one count of official misconduct.

“The City of Gallatin has taken steps to provide checks and balances within its financial operations; however, weaknesses still exist,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “The same person responsible for collecting money should not be in charge of preparing and reviewing the summary collection reports ate the end of the day.”

News release on the New Market Volunteer Fire Department situation:

An investigation by the Tennessee State Comptroller has resulted in the indictment of New Market Volunteer Fire Department Chief Frank Solomon.

Investigators determined that Solomon stole at least $1,105 from the fire department by charging personal purchases to fire department accounts at multiple auto parts stores.

Solomon bought auto parts and accessories for his personal vehicles, for a family member’s personal vehicle, and for vehicles owned by private individuals which Solomon had contracted to repair. All of these charges were paid with fire department funds.

Additionally, investigators found that Solomon misused the fire department’s sales tax exemption and vehicle title registration discount when he registered a Dodge Charger that he purchased with his personal funds in the fire department’s name. The vehicle was to be used “exclusively for fire protection purposes.”

Chief Solomon, who is also an elected constable in Jefferson County, placed decals and other markings identifying the Dodge Charger as a constable car and used the vehicle for both constable and fire department duties.

Chief Solomon admitted to investigators that he charged personal purchases to the fire department accounts. He also acknowledged that he used the Dodge Charger for constable duties as well as for fire department purposes.

In April 2017, Frank Solomon was indicted by the Jefferson County Grand Jury on one count of theft over $1,000, one count of sales tax fraud over $500, one count of theft under $500, and two counts of official misconduct.

 News release about the Oakland situation generally:

An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has raised several questions about payments, policies and use of property within the Town of Oakland in Fayette County.

Investigators found the former town recorder received a compensatory time payment totaling $45,006.01 at the end of her employment with the town. This payment was made in violation of town policy. Furthermore, the validity of the 1,532.01 hours of accrued compensatory could not be verified.

Additionally, Comptroller investigators determined the mayor of Oakland is using town owned property to conduct his full-time private sector job. The mayor has held this job throughout his term of office and works both his private sector job and performs his duties as mayor out of his city hall office. Investigators noted the mayor is frequently out of town and unavailable to town employees during the day.

The investigation also found the town of Oakland entered into business with a private company to upgrade the town’s information systems. The company charged the town $52,172.29 over a ten month period. It appears the company was directed to invoice the town in a manner that would help circumvent the town’s purchasing policies. Purchases exceeding $10,000 are required to be competitively bid. Investigators found no evidence that the work was bid as required.

The findings and recommendations in the investigative report have been reviewed with the district attorney general for the Twenty-fifth Judicial District.

“In addition to the issues noted above, our investigators also found numerous accounting and administrative problems within the town’s operations,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “I encourage the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to address each of these issues to improve accountability.”

News release on Oakland/Fayette County official indicted

An investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller has resulted in the indictment of Neal Halvorson, the former director of the Town of Oakland’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, and the current athletic director at Fayette County Schools.

Investigators determined that Halvorson was simultaneously employed by both the Town of Oakland and Fayette County Schools from November 28, 2016 through January 20, 2017.

During this time, Halvorson received improper compensation totaling $6,631.09. This included money he was paid by the Town of Oakland while he was actually working for Fayette County Schools. Halvorson was also allowed to use a town vehicle and purchase fuel with the town’s credit card while performing work for the school system.

On March 27, 2017, Neal Halvorson was indicted by the Fayette County Grand Jury on one count of theft of property, and two counts of official misconduct.

“The town of Oakland has clear policies concerning outside employment and using town property for private gain,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “It’s critical that government provide the necessary oversight to ensure policies are followed.”

Note: Full audit on the Powell Valley matter is HERE. Full audit report on the Gallatin recorder is HERE. Full audit on the New Market matter is HERE. Full report on Oakland generally is HERE. On the indictment of the Oakland parks employee, HERE.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG
Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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