A former employee of the Bradley County Finance Department is under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for alleged theft, Mayor D. Gary Davis and TBI Public Information Officer Kristin Helm confirmed late Friday.
The county employee — who is not yet being identified by the Cleveland Daily Banner because this is an ongoing investigation and no charges have been filed to date — resigned from her Finance Department post late Thursday, according to Davis and to Dan Howell, executive assistant to the mayor.
“The county has internal controls in place to safeguard against situations like this,” Davis told the Banner. “Those safeguards were instrumental in bringing this problem to light.”
Suspicions of possible wrongdoing surfaced July 5 when Bradley County Finance Director Lynn Burns “... brought to my attention that some discrepancies on some bills, received by the county, had been discovered,” Davis said.
The mayor added, “The evidence presented to me on that date suggested that an employee of the Finance Department [had] been using a county account, county funds and tax exempt number to purchase items for her personal use and [have] them shipped to her home address.”
The county mayor said he immediately directed Burns to report the finding to the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office “... without delay.” He said he also instructed the finance director to report the finding to Bradley County government attorney Crystal Freiberg upon her return to work Monday, July 8. The county’s legal counsel was reportedly out of the office when the Finance Department discrepancies were discovered.
On Monday, July 8, additional discrepancies were discovered by Burns and were reported to the mayor, Davis explained.
On the same day, “... I officially notified District Attorney General Steven Bebb and asked his office to pursue an investigation into this matter. I also instructed the county attorney, Finance Department and Human Resources Department to assist the District Attorney General in any way possible.”
Davis said his decision was to terminate the employee when she returned to work on Friday, July 12. However, the worker submitted a letter of resignation late Thursday afternoon, July 11, the mayor pointed out.
Burns was out of the office Friday and not available for comment.
Howell, who spoke at length with the Banner on Friday afternoon, declined to identify the employee, at least while the TBI investigation is ongoing and until — and if — charges are filed. If these conditions change, then it becomes a matter of public record, he said.
But the mayor’s executive assistant left no doubt the alleged discrepancies are serious.
“You can’t have somebody ... using county accounts, and by extension, county funds or taxpayer funds, to purchase items for their own personal use, whether or not they intended to pay it back,” Howell stressed. “It became apparent to [her that she] was in serious trouble so [she] chose to resign ... [she] is no longer with the county.”
Howell said two TBI agents were on-site last week at the Bradley County Courthouse after receiving DA Bebb’s request for the investigation. He said they have reportedly visited the former employee’s home, with her cooperation, to recover items allegedly shipped to her private address.
“Items purchased on the county account by the employee in question were to be recovered by investigators,” Howell said. “... They (TBI agents) actually went to the person’s home ... by all accounts, she has cooperated and is continuing to cooperate.”
He added, “It’s an ongoing investigation ... there’s not a whole lot we can say about it.”
Howell said he is uncertain about the types of items allegedly purchased by the employee using a county account, but pointed out, “... it appeared to be items that someone can use for personal use.” He said one or two laptop computers, among other items, might have been purchased, but that the TBI investigation would confirm the types of items upon its completion.
“They have to determine monetary amounts ... there are certain thresholds when you talk about criminal investigations,” as well as subsequent charges, Howell advised.
Howell said the TBI investigation will attempt to determine how long the alleged purchases were being made before the paperwork discrepancies emerged.
“They (TBI) are trying to determine exactly when she first used the account,” Howell cited. “We do believe it has been going on for no more than two months ... it’s not a long-term thing that our checks and balances failed to catch.”
Responding to a Cleveland Daily Banner inquiry by email late Friday afternoon, the TBI confirmed its role in the ongoing investigation of the former employee.
“The District Attorney General requested TBI to investigate a former Bradley County Finance Department employee for theft this week,” Helm reported. “The allegations are that she ordered office supplies using county funds and had the items shipped to her personal residence.”
Helm pointed out the subject of the investigation “... is not facing any charges at this time as the investigation is open and ongoing. The case file will be turned over to the District Attorney General for review when completed. There is no deadline set for the investigation to be completed.”
Because the investigation centers around the former Finance Department employee’s alleged activities, and not the mayor’s office, Davis pointed out he is limited in what he can say about the allegations.
“The investigation is ongoing and my office cannot comment further until [the investigation] is completed by the DA’s Office,” and by TBI, he noted.
However, Davis was emphatic in how he views such alleged wrongdoing.
“All county department heads know that as mayor, I will not tolerate such actions by employees,” he stressed. “That’s why I directed the head of the Finance Department to immediately notify the DA’s Office, who in turn, asked the TBI to investigate.”