LANDIS, NC – Talk about getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
Landis Alderman Seth Moore stated in a public meeting that on February 1, 2019, that he was made aware of possible wrongdoing by members of the town council.
On February 7, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) opened an investigation of former town officials Reed Linn and Ginger Gibson.
Linn was the fire chief and town manager. Gibson was the finance officer. Both resigned the day the investigation was announced.
Documents released during the investigation show that Gibson’s approved salary of $58,937 for 2018 had ballooned to $216,168.66.
Likewise, Linn’s approved salary of $69,077 had mysteriously increased to $286,541.10.
In 2017, Linn was paid $345, 871 and Gibson received $248,007.80, both well in excess of their approved salaries.
Three officials embezzled more than a million dollars from the town of Landis https://t.co/sMLbaKgUDZ
— WWAY News (@WWAY) July 4, 2020
The inflated salaries and other forms of compensation were disguised from town aldermen by presenting all salaries paid by the town as a single combined figure, rather than itemized by employee.
Yesterday, on July 2, 2020, Linn, Gibson, and City Recreation Director Andrew Morgan were arrested and charged with multiple counts of felony embezzlement and one count of felony conspiracy.
When asked by a television reporter for a reaction, Gibson said, “Innocent.”
When asked the same question, Linn simply replied, “Have a nice day.”
According to former mayor Mike Mahaley, police uncovered “substantial evidence” of criminal wrongdoing. In addition to criminal charges, Linn and Gibson have been sued in civil court by town attorney Rick Locklear for misappropriating town funds.
Ginger Gibson, former Landis Finance Officer, is led into the @rowancountync jail. She's been charged w/ embezzlement of town funds. When asked for comment she said, "no I haven't done anything." She rec'd a $250,000 secured bond. pic.twitter.com/cpspEdXWB7
— Shavonne Potts (@SalPostPotts) July 2, 2020
The town was first notified that something was amiss via letters sent from the state’s Local Government Commission (LGC). The town had hoped to pay for a new water line with money awarded by the USDA. A condition, however, was that the LGC had to review the town’s finances.
What they discovered caused concerns about overspending in Landis. They had tried to contact town officials on multiple occasions to address those concerns but weren’t successful. Landis showed a net loss in multiple funds and other accounts were significantly over budget.
Because of this letter, the town was forced to perform their own audit. The audit revealed that the town now had a severe budget shortfall. To make up for it, they raised property taxes, vehicle fees, and utility rates. Worst of all, to balance their budget, the town had to lay off several police officers and firemen.
What this sordid tale illustrates is the cascade effect corruption has on every resident of a small town and state authorities meant to govern them. Money was lost, but more importantly, a needed sewer line wasn’t installed, residents lost much-needed income to cover the town’s losses in the form of increased taxes and other fees.
Police and fire departments, both essential for the safety of residents, had their staffs cut.
In this case, the goal wasn’t to “defund the police,” as we hear all too often these days, but it had the same effect.
UPDATE: Both Reed Linn and Ginger Gibson have now been arrested. https://t.co/GjzxiP6WSx
— Salisbury Post (@salisburypost) July 2, 2020
If small-scale corruption like this can have such a profound effect, imagine what might happen if larger city police departments are defunded. How would corrupt officials like these be investigated? Would they be discovered and arrested?
The town of Landis couldn’t afford three white collar criminals in their midst. Can America handle a society with no checks on criminal behavior?
Here’s another recent case of embezzlement brought to you by Law Enforcement Today.
It looks like a former head of a teachers’ union in Indiana is about to get “schooled” in the criminal justice system. A judge just sentenced the previous leader of the Indiana Educators Association to nearly a year-and-a-half in prison for embezzlement.
On May 19th, 55-year-old Rhondalyn Cornett received a sentence of 16 months in federal prison, courtesy of Judge Tanya Walton Pratt. Apparently, this former educator managed to embezzle over $150,000 during a four-year period of her scheme.
Former IPS teachers’ union president Rhondalyn Cornett, 55, of Indianapolis, was sentenced to 16 months in federal prison for embezzling more than $154,000 from the teachers union. https://t.co/wFMyOlprSZ pic.twitter.com/wlLAcBe2Rk
— FBI Indianapolis (@FBIIndianapolis) May 19, 2020
According to U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler, the acts attributed to Cornett tell the tale of power influencing greed, eventually leading to criminal conduct:
“Ms. Cornett held a position of public trust and authority over the students and her fellow colleagues at IPS. She violated that trust and took advantage of her authority to line her pockets with others money. She now faces the reality of her greed.”
Cornett had begun her career as a teacher back in 1994 within the Indianapolis Public Schools system.
After nearly 20 years serving as a teacher, she found herself appointed as the president of the Indiana Educators Association in 2013.
However, after achieving said position within a branch of the Indiana State Teachers Association, it didn’t take long for the thievery to commence.
The investigation kicked off at the same time that Cornett had resigned from her position back in 2018. A financial audit during the early stages of the investigation found some severe irregularities in the form of ATM cash withdrawals from a debit card that was tied to the IEA.
— Stephen L Avery (@stephenlavery3) November 11, 2018
Cornett was asked to resign from her position on November 8th of 2018, when the concerns first arose.
However, at the time, her resignation was only being attributed to Cornett’s “failure to meet her obligations toward sound financial management of members’ dues dollars.”
“ISTA’s investigation discovered that Rhondalyn Cornett had used her IEA debit card to withdraw about $100,000 in cash for personal use, spokeswoman Kim Clements-Johnson said.” https://t.co/2NZm4u7by6
— S.S. Barnes (@educatorbarnes) November 10, 2018
While Cornett’s resignation at the time didn’t directly allege any criminal conduct, that didn’t stop the IEA from looping in the IMPD’s Organized Crime department to have a closer look at the “financial management” employed by the previous union head.
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A year later in 2019 is when things all changed, according to a release by the Department of Justice. On July 22nd of 2019, Cornett had officially entered in a guilty plea to embezzlement. The release from the DOJ at the time alleged the following:
“Cornett used her position and authority to write checks from the union’s bank account as well as use the union’s debit card for personal expenses and to withdraw cash. In total, Cornett stole over $100,000.”
United States Attorney Josh J. Minkler announced today that Rhondalyn Cornett, 54, of Indianapolis has entered a plea of guilty to embezzling over $100,000 from the teachers’ union.
— Abdul-Hakim Shabazz (@AttyAbdul) July 22, 2019
Well, after over a year’s time, Cornett finally received her sentence. While it’s a far cry from the possible 20 years she was facing, at least some semblance of justice was attained. U.S. Attorney Minkler described the crimes committed by Cornett during her time as the head of the IEA:
“Shortly after attaining the presidency, Cornett began a four-year long scheme of embezzlement from the IEA, and ultimately the teachers themselves. The scheme began in 2014, and lasted until her resignation in 2018.
She stole over $154,000 from the teachers who serve the most economically disadvantaged students in the state.”
As president the Indianapolis Public Schools teachers union, Rhondalyn Cornett embezzled more than $100,000 by writing checks from the union to herself and using a union debit card to pay personal expenses and make cash withdrawals. #education #EdChat #k12 https://t.co/cBnnio2Zk1
— Chalkbeat (@Chalkbeat) May 20, 2020
The sheer audacity of stealing funds meant to behoove students and teachers, with Cornett having been a teacher herself for decades, is something that rubbed IMPD Chief Randal Taylor the wrong way.
Chief Taylor said that the money stolen was meant to shape “the future of our city,” and noted that the likes of said criminal conduct will not be tolerated:
“The women and men of the IMPD and our law enforcement partners remain committed to ensuring our city’s educators, and the young people in their care, are never taken advantage of.”
Hopefully this former teacher learned a valuable lesson in crime and punishment with the delivered sentence.
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