By Patti Weaver

 

(Tryon, Okla.) — Former Tryon Police Chief Jered Prickett received $70,987.69 in unauthorized payroll between July 2016 and May 2019, a misappropriation of public funds, State Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd alleged in a special investigative audit that was released last week.
    “The person in charge of law enforcement appears to have been breaking the law,” the state auditor alleged in a news release.
    In addition to receiving unauthorized pay, Prickett charged more than $3,700 in questionable credit card expenditures,” including improper fuel purchases, food, medical care and deer hunting supplies, the news release alleged.
    “Prickett also used town funds to purchase six firearms totaling $3,330.40. The firearms were not located in the town’s inventory,” the news release alleged.
    “Donations made to the Tryon Police Department totaling $3,960 were not deposited into the Town’s bank account,” but either cashed out by Prickett or deposited into his personal bank account,” the news release alleged.
    “Prickett also misappropriated $4,866.50 from the Police Auxiliary bank account via cash and ATM withdrawals,” including at local area casinos, the news release alleged.
    Tryon’s then-police chief, who also served as utility operator and animal control officer, officially resigned effective June 13, 2019, the audit said.
    His wife, Candace Prickett, received $5,212.50 in unauthorized payroll between January 2017 and May 2019, a misappropriation of public funds, the audit alleged.
    Candace Prickett had been appointed as town clerk-treasurer in January 2011 and later as also the Tryon Utility Authority utility operator, the audit said.
    “She improperly remained in the elected position for over eight years,” in violation of town ordinances and state law until she resigned effective June 17, 2019, the audit alleged.
    Jessica Turpin, a utility clerk for the Tryon Utility Authority, received $3,120 in unauthorized payroll between January 2017 and May 2019, a misappropriation of public funds, the audit alleged. Turpin, who was also designated as court clerk, served in both positions until she was terminated in November 2020, the audit said.
    Whether criminal charges will be filed in connection with the investigative audit will be determined by Lincoln County District Attorney Allan Grubb, who was unavailable for comment.
    Tryon, which has a population of about 500 and an annual budget of approximately $750,000, is managed as a Town Board of Trustees, the news release said.
    According to the audit, “In May 2019, after it was discovered that sufficient funds were not available to meet the Town’s financial obligations, board members became aware of the following:
    * The police chief had reported W-2 earnings for 2018 of $106,000.
    * The Town’s bank account was overdrawn by approximately $8,000.
    * The Town was several months behind on paying bills.
    * Purchase orders were being pre-signed.
    * Credit card statements were being paid but not shown to the Board.
    “Based on this information, the Board became concerned about the Town’s ability to meet future financial obligations. On June 12, 2019, the Board requested the State Auditor & Inspector’s Office conduct an investigative audit of the Town and the Tryon Utility Authority,” the audit said.
     The state auditor alleged in the audit, “The issues addressed in this report reflect that the Town of Tryon has experienced a major financial loss at the hands of its former employees. Although these losses are really the responsibility of the alleged perpetrators, some culpability can also be directed at those who served as board members over the course of the past several years.
    “Several trustees asserted they were unaware of the improper payroll payments and unlawful expenditures. Even though several of the questionable transactions appeared to be purposefully hidden from the oversight of the Board, a timely review of bank statements, timecards, check registers, or monthly expenditure reports, should have brought some of the questionable transactions to light. The Board ultimately bears responsibility for the financial welfare of the Town.”
    In a letter of resignation addressed to the Board and Town Attorney Anthony Seeberger on June 2, 2019, that was contained in the audit report, the Tryon police chief wrote that regarding a fuel card, “I will repay the Town the monies I charged to my personal vehicle.”
    Jered Pickett claimed, “This has occurred before when (another man) was here and he was terminated for the same thing. In lieu of pursuing criminal charges, the Town Board of Trustees allowed him to repay the monies over a period of 60-90 days.
    “Since it has happened before and the Board allowed it, I feel it should be allowed again or it would appear the Board picks and chooses who it wants charged with a crime.
    “As for the issue of me using the Town’s Branson tractor as collateral on a bank loan note, yes I did this. I have contacted my banker and had it removed from the loan. It was done solely for the purpose of obtaining a lower interest rate.
    “As for the Glock 43s that each officer have. They purchased those weapons. They paid the monies for them to be purchased and shipped to the Police Department. I have two that belongs to the town that will be in my inventory. The rifle in question will also be paid for. I honestly thought I had written a check out of my personal account covering the cost of that rifle back to the town.
    “I have no excuses for the things that have happened. I violated your trust in me and for that I hold myself accountable. I ask that these matters be in executive session at the meeting and that any and all slander or talks about this issue be kept between board members. Candace has no part in any of this, nor was she aware it had happened.
    “Please get me the total amount that needs to be repaid for the fuel card and rifle. Also, as for my vacation time that has accrued and regardless of the scenario should be paid to me, I ask that those monies be used towards what is owed. The sick time that is maxed out, I am not worried about. I plan on paying this amount as soon as I’m told how much it is.”
    The resignation letter was signed, “Respectfully, Jered Prickett.”