Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Ex-worker accused of theft from city parks

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

A former employee of Cabot Parks and Recreation has been arrested for embezzlement and the county prosecutor has called for a State Police investigation to determine if problems in that department run any deeper.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain said Cabot Police Chief Jackie Davis initiated the investigation that led to the arrest of Sarah Michelle Rye, a bookkeeper who admitted to embezzling $8,063 over a two-year period by writing herself duplicate paychecks.

McCastlain said she asked the State Police to continue the investigation to avoid any conflict.

“Without an investigation, I don’t know if there is anything else,” McCastlain said. “If there is something else, city employees may have been witnesses.”

Rye, 26, of 144 Spring Valley Road, Cabot, turned herself in to Cabot Police on Jan. 21 and was released immediately on a $5,000 bond.

Questioned by Lt. Scott Steely on Jan. 17, Rye said she wrote herself 19 duplicate paychecks in 2005 totaling $3,987.22 and 12 duplicate paychecks in 2006 totaling $4,076.22. Those figures indicate that Rye’s take-home pay increased $120 a paycheck from 2005 to 2006. She left the parks department in 2007.

Sources say police began their investigation after an audit of the park books for 2006 showed the discrepancy in the payroll.The police report said the duplicate checks were either cashed or deposited at Community Bank and Bank of the Ozarks.

McCastlain said she asked for the State Police investigation about two weeks ago. Last week, the commission that runs Cabot
Parks and Recreation met in executive session to discuss personnel. At press time, a second meeting to discuss personnel was planned.

By state law, executive session may be used only to discuss hiring, firing or disciplinary action against an employee, and officials must make public their decisions on matters discussed in executive session.

Mike Brannon, commission chairman, said part of the time in executive session last week was used to update the members on the investigation.

“We’ve got seven members, and every one had heard a different story,” Brannon said.

The parks and recreation department was over budget $100,000 in 2007. Parks director Carroll Astin told the council that he underestimated the cost of operating the now year-old community center.

He also said the parks department paid too much for ball tournaments and full-time employees, such as the fitness instructor who was laid off in the middle of 2007.

Astin told the council that the department also employed too many young people with questionable work ethics and that in 2008 he would pay more for older, more reliable workers.