Region 8 Investigates: Officer fired over questionable pay issues, auditors investigating

Region 8 Investigates: Officer fired over questionable pay issues, auditors investigating

HARDY, AR (KAIT) - Documents detailing why a Hardy officer was fired show four unauthorized payments made to city employees totaling $2,136.80, including a duplicate payroll check to a former police officer and his wife.

Region 8 News obtained the incident report through a Freedom of Information Act Request. That incident report is located at the bottom of this story.

Hardy Mayor Jason Jackson fired Scott Hart on Friday, September 29.

The city's Recorder/Treasurer Greg Bess sent an incident report detailing his findings and concerns that were presented to the mayor.

Bess said he found two issues: payroll checks and unauthorized payroll advances.

The payroll issue involves duplicate checks issued to Scott Hart and Chasity Hart, who was working as an assistant to the recorder/treasurer at the time.

Two checks totaling $1,136.80 were issued on March 16. Those were signed by City Superintendent Billy Gilbreath. Bess said those were legitimate paychecks.

Two more checks for the same amount were issued on March 21. Those checks appear to be signed by the former recorder/treasurer Myranda Hobbs and Mayor Jackson.

Mayor Jackson, however, said the signature on the checks is forged. Bess said these duplicate checks were cashed along with the legitimate checks.

Bess said Jackson did not know about these checks until Bess brought them to his attention.

The incident report said the duplicate checks were paid out of a dormant fund account labeled A&P Capital Improvement Check Fund, which is under control of the A&P Commission and should not have been used for any employee checks.

It appears that Scott Hart began repayment for the two duplicate checks in July with legitimate payments totaling $403.74, the amount of Chasity's duplicate check.

Hart paid $50 on July 14, $100 on August 15, and $253.74 on August 30.

However, Bess said in his report that a final repayment of $733.06 is "questionable."

That is because Scott received two paychecks for the same amount on August 30.

He cashed in some money on one of the checks, but the other check was "zeroed" in the system, making it look like it was used to repay the debt.

Bess notes that their software support technicians said that second check was likely not printed and only looked like it paid off the debt while Scott did not actually lose that money.

The duplicate checks were not the only unauthorized payments found in the report, though.

Two other hidden payments were payroll advances, both for $500, paid to the current Hardy Police Chief Tamora Taylor in December 2016 and the water clerk, Monica Shepard, in January 2017.

Mayor Jackson said he also had no knowledge of those payments and did not authorize them.

"Not only is it not standard, but to my understanding, it is illegal to give or take loans from the city," Jackson said. "I mean, that's taxpayer money. It doesn't belong to any particular person to have the right to loan it out. So from the attorney's opinion on it, it was to give any kind of loans or take any kind of loan."

The mayor said he also did not authorize any repayment plan for any of these incidents.

When questioned, Bess noted both Taylor and Shepard said Former Recorder/Treasurer Myranda Hobbs "offered them the advance assistance and said she had the authority to grant an advance."

Mayor Jackson said the city has not yet decided if charges will be pressed against anyone in this case.

"Right now, the recorder/treasurer is going through everything and he actually contacted the auditor to come in and take a look," Jackson said. "We haven't made any decisions about what the legal proceedings will be afterwards until we finalize the full investigation as far as how much money is missing or was taken."

Jackson said he wants to be transparent with taxpayers about where their money is going and he is overwhelmed with everything that has come to light recently.

"You rely on every department head to do their job as far as making sure everything that it all works together and everyone is honest," Jackson said. "There was a failure here. And it bothers me that the money was loaned out but not only was it loaned out, it was taken from a hidden account and then the chief of police finds out about it and then proceeds to negotiate a payback and hide a crime."

When Bess became recorder/treasurer he said the payment software was not password protected and did not distinguish between users.

It also had an application, GoToMeeting, that allows remote access to the entire computer.

Bess said in his report that he understands both Hobbs and Chasity Hart used GoToMeeting.

The application was disabled and deleted, but not before Bess believes someone remotely accessed the computer between September 5 and September 7, deleting several data files that were on the desktop.

In an e-mail sent to Region 8 News on October 12, Greg Bess said he uncovered records associated to a questionable pay stab while investigating an FOIA for Scott Hart's wife.

Hart and his wife have obtained legal counsel and Police Chief Tamora Taylor says there was no wrong-doing in regards to these incidents.

Mayor Jackson has a state auditor looking over the city's accounting information. He said once the auditor is finished, he'll decide whether to request an investigation by Arkansas State Police.

ASP confirmed to Region 8 News they have not yet been asked to open an investigation.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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