Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

TOP STORY >> Ex-Beebe police chief charged

Leader staff writer

Dennis Briggs, who was police chief in Beebe during much of Mayor Donald Ward’s first term in office, was arrested in Shelby County, Tenn., Monday for allegedly forging former Mayor Mike Robertson’s signature to dozens of magazine subscriptions.

Robertson, who was instrumental in getting Briggs arrested, said Tuesday that trying to get the subscriptions stop-ped and clearing up his credit record after he refused to pay the bogus bills had consumed about a year of his life.

Hiring the handwriting expert who id-entified Briggs as the person who filled out all those order forms cost about $2,000. But today, only one unwanted magazine is still arriving every month at Warehouse Furniture on Dewitt Henry Drive, the business his family owns.

“You can absolutely cause somebody 24-hour misery,” Robertson said about the ordeal.
As for hiring Briggs in the first place, Mayor Ward said he didn’t ask for a copy of his personnel file (which shows suspensions for multiple rule infractions) but hired him based on his application and letters of endorsement including one from a judge.

When Ward decided that Briggs was not the person he wanted as police chief, he fired him, the mayor said.
“If I’d have known he was that shady, I’d have never hired him,” Ward insisted.
Robertson said his trouble with the forgeries started last year.

“Somewhere around March or April of ’04, my dad came into work and he was carrying a Playboy. He had gotten it in the mail and it was from me. And I got the bill.

“A few days later I got one and it was a gift from my father to me and he got the bill. A few days later a man across town called to say he had my Penthouse…It had my name on it and his address.
“What can you do but apologize and tell people that you don’t know what happened?” he said.
Robertson said the magazines and the bills for them kept coming for a year. He said it appeared that someone had gone into a bookstore and ordered every magazine there in his name.

Eventually, collectors started calling and then vendors who do business with Warehouse Furn-iture started asking for financial reports, he said.

He went to the sheriff, county prosecutor and finally to the U.S. Postal Service, looking for help, he said. Eventually his break came in the form of a filled-out magazine subscription card that was returned for lack of sufficient postage. He took it to a handwriting expert from the State Police Crime Lab who took clients on the side, he said. He also gathered samples of people he suspected.
Ward says his writing was included in the samples, but Robertson would neither confirm nor deny that allegation. He did say he suspected it was a city official.

Robertson said he included Briggs’ writing because he thought the writing on the card resembled samples of Briggs’ writing that were in a file he kept on the ex-police chief. The magazines, about 100 different ones, were turned over to a postal inspector whose investigation is still going on, he said.
White County Sheriff Pat Garrett said Tuesday that Briggs has bonded out of jail and refused to sign the waiver of extradition. It will take a governor’s warrant to get him out of Tennessee.

That process has already been started, he said, adding that Briggs knows how the legal system works and has bought a little more time in Tennessee by refusing to sign.