Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

TOP STORY >>Charges filed against official stun friends

By PEG KENYON AND JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writers

Former comptroller Ron Quillin, charged Monday with embezzling $42,000 from Pulaski County coffers, was free on a $35,000 bond Tuesday, leaving friends and officials stunned and feeling betrayed.

Quillin, said to be cooperating with the investigation, nonetheless pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts of theft of property, two felony counts of forgery and a misdemeanor count of abuse of office when he appeared before District Judge Wayne Gruber Tuesday morning.

Quillin’s next court appearance is set for Aug. 2.

Quillin was arrested by the sheriff’s office without incident Monday morning at the Bank of the Ozarks near the intersection of LaHarpe and Chester streets, where he apparently was making a transaction.

“The FBI’s public-corruption task force helped with the investigation,” according to Sheriff Doc Holladay.

Quillin’s alleged crimes began in January 2006, continuing until recently, according to county officials. “This is a sad, sad day for Pulaski County,” said Pulaski County Quorum Court member Bob Johnson, R-Jacksonville.
“This is one of my friends (probably) going to jail,” Johnson said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m in shock. He’s never lied to me or deceived me.

“We would sit together at meetings,” Johnson said. “He was an avid baseball fan and so am I.”

County Judge Buddy Villines, who earlier this year promoted Quillin to county director of administration, replacing Ron Copeland, said he’s run the gamut of emotions regarding the man he used to rely upon in financial matters.

Mike Hutchins, the former Faulkner County comptroller, is now Pulaski County comptroller. The position of director of administration, vacated when Quillin left April 30 to become the chief financial officer of the state’s Medicaid program for the state Department of Health and Human Services, will be left open for now, Johnson said.

Julie Munsell, spokesman for DHHS, said following Quillin’s arrest that the state has put him on administrative leave.
“A person in a trusted position with knowledge and intent can find a way to ... break into the system,” according to Villines.
He said a county employee alerted him May 24 that she was concerned about an account “outside county government.” The next day, staff found “what appeared to be misappropriation of funds,” said the judge. After that, things moved pretty fast, he said.

“You do what you can to keep this from happening, but when it does, you act decisively,” Villines said. County attorney Karla Burnett met with investigators from the sheriff’s office on Memorial Day and that office took over the investigation, he said.

The county hired Quillin in 1994 for beaver control, an entry-level position, and he worked his way up through six positions to become the county’s top employee, Villines said. “At every level he performed well. There was no indication he might be a risk. It baffles me.”

The money in question came in the form of rebates or special revenues that go to the comptroller for coding, rather than through the treasurer’s office.

JP Johnson said a special meeting of the quorum court committee chairs had been called for June 12 to “figure out what happened,” to discuss options and try to implement additional safeguards. This year’s county budget includes $50,000 to hire an outside consultant—a lawyer or a CPA—to review the county’s finances, so the quorum court can get some professional help.

Johnson, the head of the budget committee and himself a CPA, said it was too early to know whether or not more than $42,000 had been taken. The county started a ways-and-means committee to keep closer watch over county revenues and expenses.

At this press conference, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley explained that each of the Class B felonies carry a maximum prison term of 5 to 20 years and a $15,000 fine and each Class C felony has a maximum prison term of three to 20 years and a $10,000 fine.

Jegley vented his frustration over the “abuse-of-office” being classified as a misdemeanor. This misdemeanor charge allows for only for a maximum fine of $500.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.