Weakley County woman indicted for theft over $10,000

Weakley County woman indicted for theft over $10,000
A former employee of the Fulton Electric System was indicted Aug. 12 by the Fulton County Grand Jury.
Jennifer Bivens, of Weakley County, was indicted for theft by unlawful taking over $10,000 in connection with missing funds from the electric system office, occurring between January and September 2009, according to Commonwealth Attorney Michael Stacy, who brought the charges on behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
The amount of the alleged missing funds is approximately $81,000.
Following the True Bill handed down by the Grand Jury, shortly after 11 a.m., Bivens appeared before First District Circuit Judge Tim Langford on the second floor courtroom at the Fulton County Court House in Hickman, along with her attorney, Dennis Null who has offices in Mayfield and Fulton, and offered a not guilty plea on Bivens’ behalf.
Representing the Commonwealth, Stacy asked Bivens’ bond to be set at $80,000.
Judge Langford gave Bivens until 3 p.m. Aug. 13 to provide $4,000, 5 percent of the amount to the Court Clerk.
Judge Langford also questioned Bivens as to her possible possession of a passport, which would have to be submitted to the court, as well as directing her not to leave her home from 6 p.m.-6 a.m. daily, with stipulated exceptions.
The responsibility of the Grand Jury, was to review the cases presented to them, including evidence provided by the Commonwealth, and come to a decision as to whether the evidence supports the continuation of prosecution in a court of law, and requires the person to answer to the indictment.
The Fulton Electric System is “technically” owned by The Citizens of Fulton, according to Mayor Dan Voegeli.
The Fulton Electric System’s operation is overseen by a board, meeting each third Monday of the month, currently including Chairman James Butts, City Commissioner Jeff Vaughn, George Frazier, Beth McWhirt, and George Brock.
Commissioner Vaughn represents the general body.
“I am a liason and communicate to the Commission,” Vaughn said in a telephone interview Aug. 11.
Prior to his appointment by the mayor as a commission representative to the FES board, Vaughn served as a citizen representative on the board.  
Citizen representatives are appointed by the mayor, with the City Commission’s approval.
FES Chairman Butts, board members McWhirt and Brock had “no comment” on the alleged theft, as did the board’s attorney Joe Johnson, of Fulton.
Board member Frazier said “a discovery of this type of loss is very difficult,” and “difficult to catch early on. The system handles a substantial amount of cash. It is owned by the citizens of Fulton” and “audits are conducted.”
The electric system’s  Chief Financial Officer Berry Turner, who took the post Feb. 15, explained the process of checks and balances now in place.
“Customers pay, each day, two utility clerks employed by Fulton Electric System. They count each other’s drawers at the end of each business day, count and record the total deposits taken to the bank that same day. The next day, I make verification, with the bank, of the deposit,” he said.
Users of electricity within the system include residential  and commercial users, as well as pole rentals.
The system currently employees eight people.
When contacted March 2, following information provided to the Leader on a possible theft of funds, FES Manager David Moss said the incident was under investigation and he had no further comment on the matter.
Subsequent calls to Moss in the months following  resulted in the same response to The Fulton Leader.
Commonwealth Attorney Stacy, who was elected to represent Ballard, Carlisle, Hickman and Fulton counties three years ago,  said it was his office’s policy to “not comment on possible pending cases,” when contacted by the Fulton Leader March 5.  
When asked what resources or agencies might be used in an investigation by his office, he said “in general, the Commonwealth could ask for help from local agencies, but not necessarily.”
When contacted April 23, both Mayor Voegeli and Fulton City Manager Kenny Etherton, said they had no knowledge of the alleged missing funds from the F.E.S.
At that time Voegeli said he was not aware of an investigation, as did Etherton, who added “we (the city) own the F.E.S., but they are a self-sufficient board.”
When asked about City Commissioners Vaughn’s seat on the F.E.S. board, Mayor Voegeli confirmed Vaughn’s appointment, and stated he “doesn’t report to the commission.”
Confirmation was made in April the incident was under investigation by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office.
Commonwealth Attorney Stacy said his office was first contacted in November or December 2009, in regard to the discovery of missing funds.
On Aug. 16, Stacy added an investigator with the State’s Attorney General’s office was used to assist in the investigation. He further stated his office has completed the investigation.
A pretrial conference for Bivens was set for Sept. 9 at 9:30 a.m. in Fulton County Circuit Court, with Judge Langford presiding.
Null said prior to the date, he and his client will review the evidence presented to them by Stacy.
“The case was not initiated with a criminal charge through District Court, moving immediately to the Grand Jury,” Null said. He further confirmed Bivens was employed by the Fulton Electric System for “in excess of one year” and was “terminated.”
“In our criminal justice system, an individual is presumed innocent in all stages of prosecution. That’s what separates us from other countries, why we have the system we have…. the presumption of innocence. If it turns out there has been a theft of money from Fulton Electric System, I believe the evidence will show my client is not the person who is responsible,” he said.
Mayor Voegeli the day before the indictment, said “in my capacity as mayor, I have no knowledge, nor conversation, nor have I been contacted in regard to any investigation” regarding the Fulton Electric System.
Fulton Commissioners Martha Poe Vowell, David Prater and Mike Farmer had “no comment” regarding the system’s missing funds.
City Manager Etherton offered “no comment, as there is ongoing investigation” however he stated he first heard about the allegation “about two months ago.”
Editor’s note: Benita Gammons is a Fulton Leader staff member in Fulton, Ky.
WCP 8.24.10

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