Commission member implicated, former employee arrested in finance probePublished 3:27pm Friday, March 21, 2014
HUNTSVILLE – A former secretary with the Madison County Commission has been arrested and charged with felony theft and ethics violations for allegedly siphoning off almost $177,000 in county funds, Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange reported.
Meanwhile an audit by the state, released March 21, also implicates former County Commissioner Jerry Craig.
A statement from Strange’s office said Deborah Kay Sims, 59, was indicted and turned herself in to the Madison County Sheriff’s Department on March 19.
“I couldn’t see how this would not have resulted in at least one arrest,” said commission member Eddie Sisk, whose District 3 office became the focus of an investigation shortly after he took office in late 2012.
“It’s a big relief,” Sisk said. “I’ve been questioned by everyone in the community: ‘What’s going on?’”
As an employee of Craig, the previous District 3 commissioner, Sims is accused of diverting money paid for “private works” jobs, in which individuals pay for county work crews to do projects on private property. Sisk said he discovered irregularities when he found a statement from an unreported county bank account labeled “Fishing Rodeo Fund.”
“If you bought a load of gravel, your check did not go to the county,” Sisk explained. “It went into this ‘Fishing Rodeo Fund,’ and then it was funneled out.”
Craig has said he knew nothing of the diversions but an audit by the state Department of Examiners of Public Accounts labels him culpable. So far no charges have been filed against Craig, but, in the report, chief examiner Ronald Jones orders that both Sims and Craig pay restitution.
According to Strange’s office, Sims was charged with two counts of theft of checks or money valued at more than $2,500 and one count of intentionally using her official position as a public employee for unlawful personal gain for more than $2,500.
Sims was booked into the Madison County Jail and released on $5,000 bond.
Several commission members described the revelations as “sad.” “I don’t think anyone denies it looked bad from the get-go,” said commission member Phil Riddick. “It gives us a black eye,” agreed commissioner Phil Vandiver.
Charles Molineaux is an anchor and investigative reporter with WAFF 48 News.