By BRIAN GRAVES
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has cleared Bradley County Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller of any wrongdoing involving funds in her office.That finding came after the District Attorney …
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has cleared Bradley County Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller of any wrongdoing involving funds in her office.
That finding came after the District Attorney General's office had already found nothing in a preliminary investigation.
Tenth District Attorney General Steve Crump reported the findings to Miller, Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford and County Attorney Crystal Frieberg in a letter released to the Cleveland Daily Banner by Miller after the filing of a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to the letter, the original allegations against Miller came from a complaint filed Dec. 22, 2016, with the TBI by Meigs County General Sessions Court Judge Casey Stokes.
Stokes told TBI Special Agent Barry Carrier, who is no longer with the agency, he had an "informant" who suspected Miller of converting petty cash from the office for her personal use. The monies were alleged to have come from the payments from people requesting copies and background checks.
Bradley County Commissioner Dan Rawls also called Carrier relaying the same information on Dec. 29, 2016, and, according to the letter, indicated he had been "investigating" the same allegations for about a year.
Crump said the policy of his office was to do neither a preliminary inquiry nor a formal investigation based on anonymous complaints.
"My policy was enacted both as a screening procedure and a tool to assure that a witness was available and able to testify," Crump wrote. "No prosecution is possible without credible evidence and available witnesses."
Crump said he contacted Rawls in mid-January and the commissioner said he had "no first-hand information" related to the allegations, "but was only repeating to the TBI what he had been told by others."
Rawls indicated there were three witnesses who would have information "according to what he had been told," but declined to give their names, citing a "lack of authority to reveal their names."
"Our conversation ended with his agreement to seek authority to reveal the names of the witnesses," Crump wrote.
On Jan. 25, 2017, Rawls sent Crump a text indicating he had obtained the names of the witnesses and they had agreed to allow him to share them with the AG.
"He delivered a handwritten list with the names of three employees of the Circuit Court Clerk's office later that week," Crump reported in the letter. "The names given to this office were Tracy Hicks, Andrea (Missy) Shaw and Deana Merkel."
Crump asked investigator Calvin Rockholt in early February to open an initial inquiry into Stokes' and Rawls' allegations and to interview the three witnesses named, as well as obtain the names of any additional witnesses, review the process for payment of costs for background checks, review the process for accounting for cash payment for those items and determine if any evidence exisited that any monies had been diverted from the office for Miller's personal use.
"Investigator Rockholt conducted the interviews and none of the witnesses provided any information or proof of criminal activity," Crump reported. "No additional witnesses were identified by these witnesses. In short, there was no proof offered of any criminal or even inappropriate activity."
Rockholt then reviewed the procedures and processes for collecting and maintaining cash within the office.
All personnel questioned indicated the same process was used and a review of reports by the state comptroller's office indicated "that the petty cash had been maintained in a manner that was within state accounting guidelines and were not the subject of any finding or recommendations."
Crump noted that there were no receipts given for background checks and photocopies at the time of the preliminary inquiry, but "that practice has now changed and all monies received are receipted."
Crump and Rockholt met with Miller, advised her they had completed the initial inquiry and, as of the first week of April, "considered this matter closed."
Crump then reports it was in late July when Constable Dewayne Hicks contacted him and "indicated that he had been told that the witnesses had not told the truth to investigator Rockholt."
"He further indicated that they were not truthful because the witnesses believed that this office would attempt to 'cover up' the truth. He further indicated that the witnesses would speak and tell a different narrative to agents of the TBI," Crump wrote. "He indicated that he did not have any personal knowledge about the events or allegations, but had been told this by other people."
Crump took that information and asked the TBI to assist his office on the matter, informing Miller of the decision.
"[Miller] agreed that utilizing TBI to conduct a separate independent investigation was a good idea and indicated she was entirely supportive," Crump reported. "She told us she welcomed the entry of the TBI."
TBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joshua Melton conducted the new investigation.
Melton interviewed the same three witnesses, and included a separate former deputy clerk, Jennifer McCall.
"No witness changed any portion of their statement. No additional records were discovered that would indicate any evidence of theft or conduct by Mrs. Miller," the report says.
"In short, there is no evidence that Gayla Miller diverted any funds from the Bradley County Court Clerk's office. No witness identified any behavior or actions that identified criminal conduct. No records or documents were discovered that indicated any wrongful transfers of money," Crump reported. "There is simply no proof of any wrongdoing.
Crump said he is in the process of getting a court order which will allow the TBI file to be released to the public.
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