Updated

Hearne fires four workers, cites abuse of credit cards

By HOLLY HUFFMAN

Eagle Staff Writer

The Hearne City Council voted this week to fire the longtime city secretary and three other city employees after evidence surfaced that the four misused public money, officials said.

The four women — including 17-year city secretary Dorothy Cooper — together are believed to have used city credit cards to pay for roughly $1,200 in personal expenses around Christmas last year, City Attorney Bryan Russ said Tuesday.

Russ identified the other employees as Cynthia Flores, Josephine Carrillo and Leslie Ely. He said he didn’t know how long each worked for the city.

None have been charged with a crime. The terminations, voted on Monday, were effective immediately, Russ said.

A fifth employee remains under investigation but has not been fired, Russ said. He refused to name the person, citing the pending investigation.

“It’s regrettable that the circumstances were what they were,” Russ said, explaining that the City Council considered each woman a good employee.

“It’s not good for them. It’s not good for the city. But I think the City Council did what they thought was the best thing for the city to do.”

Carrillo, 27, declined comment Tuesday. Neither Flores nor Ely were listed by name in the Robertson County telephone directory. A phone number for Cooper was disconnected.

The credit card charges were uncovered by City Manager Ric Walton, who found “discrepancies” while reviewing documents and turned the information over to Hearne police, Russ said. Walton determined the employees had charged personal items on city credit cards and failed to pay the money back, the city attorney said.

The women have since repaid the city, but only after they were confronted a couple of weeks ago by Hearne police officers who were investigating, Russ said.

He said he didn’t know exactly how much each employee may have charged, but the total amount was less than $1,200.

City Council members met in closed session with each employee before voting 4-1 to fire them, Russ said. Councilman Michael Washington cast the lone dissenting vote, the city attorney said, adding that the council did not discuss the issue when it reconvened in open session.

Russ would not say whether the women were the same four employees currently under investigation by a Robertson County grand jury for fraud and theft within the city.

Robertson County District Attorney John Paschall said last week the panel is investigating five Hearne city employees — three for possible retirement fund fraud and two on suspicion of using city credit cards to pay for personal expenses and then failing to pay back the money.

The possible fraud dates back to late 2000 and early 2001, when three city employees retired but may not have quit working. Under the state’s municipal retirement system, retirees must stop working for a designated time period to be eligible for benefits, Paschall said. After that time has passed, employees can go back to work.

The three could be indicted on charges of falsifying government documents to secure their retirement, Paschall said.

Two more city employees are under investigation for theft, accused of paying for personal items with Hearne credit cards during December 2003 and January 2004 and failing to reimburse the city, he said.

The grand jury began reviewing the allegations earlier this month and asked for additional evidence to be presented when it reconvenes in October, Paschall said.

• Holly Huffman’s e-mail address is hhuffman@theeagle.com.

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