ABI investigating Florala embezzlement

Published 12:48 am Tuesday, September 18, 2012

State investigative officials are now working a “potential embezzlement” case against former Florala Utilities manager Lynn Hughes.

“The Florala Police Department will not be working this. It will be ABI,” said Alabama Bureau of Investigation agent J.K. Ward at a special called board meeting Monday.

Ward said a week ago, Florala Police Chief Sonny Bedsole sent a request to ABI for assistance in investigating potential embezzlement by Hughes.

More than two weeks ago, Hughes’ employment was terminated for “insubordination,” and staff allegedly discovered accounting discrepancies, prompting an investigation.

Ward said he met with Joy Taylor, a city employee serving as an accounting assistant, who “told me what we’re looking for, but I need to find out what we’re looking at as far as losses taken.”

Ward instructed the board to contact District Attorney Walt Merrell and ask for assistance in obtaining a forensic audit by the state department of public accounts.

“When you do a yearly audit, you’re seeing if the plusses and the minuses match,” Ward said. “You’re not diving into where the funds are going. That is what a forensic audit will do.”

He said he plans to meet with Merrell to also discuss how far back charges can be applied. Ward said traditionally, there is a three-year statute of limitations from the date the investigation began.

“Which in this case would be Sept. 10,” he said.

Ward then explained the typical path of a criminal case.

“What would happen after the investigation is completed and we get that figure and we can show wrong-doing occurred, the case would be presented to the grand jury,” he said.

Ward said if the case is “true billed,” meaning a grand jury finds enough evidence to indict, it could be up to two years before the case is tried.

“This is not a fast or quick process,” he said.

Board Chairman Marvin Williford said previously that financial information and record keeping and bookkeeping practices were at the heart of the investigation.

When asked Monday, members would not give a dollar figure involved in the case, stating only they wanted to wait for the results audit before commenting further.

Board members also agreed since Hughes was under investigation, the board would have the state determine if Hughes would be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.