State authorities arrest Bell County Clerk and three current or former employees

bestep@herald-leader.comNovember 8, 2013 

State authorities arrested Bell County Clerk Rebecca Blevins Friday on charges involving the alleged theft of more than $12,000, Attorney General Jack Conway announced. Two current employees and one former employee also were arrested.

Blevins, 45, was charged with felony theft; possession of a forged instrument, also a felony; and first-degree official misconduct, a misdemeanor, according to a news release.

The three others charged were Flora Ferrell, 55, a former deputy clerk; and current deputies Connie Watkins, 40, and Kayla Carnes, 23.

Conway's office said Ferrell and Carnes were charged with felony theft and with criminal conspiracy, a misdemeanor. Watkins was charged with possession of a forged instrument, a felony, according to the news release.

Warrants issued in the case said the period of the alleged thefts was from March 2009 to the present, said Daniel Kemp, a spokesman for Conway's office.

An investigation stemming from financial irregularities found in state audits identified more than 50 people who bought cars from outside Kentucky but didn't get a tax refund they were owed, according to Conway's office.

Blevins, Ferrell and Carnes allegedly kept a total of about $12,200 in refunds, while Watkins is accused of assisting in the scheme, Conway said.

Blevins was taken to jail in Harlan County, while Ferrell, Carnes and Watkins were jailed in Bell County. As an elected official, Blevins can keep her office until the case is resolved.

Audits conducted under former state Auditor Crit Luallen and her successor, Adam Edelen, had identified financial problems in Blevins' office over a number of years.

In 2009 and 2010, for instance, audits identified at least $21,209 in payments that Blevins' office took in, but didn't record or deposit in the bank. That problem of undeposited receipts continued in 2011, according to a report from Edelen's office released in September.

In one case, for instance, a car dealer provided a check for $1,143 to cover taxes and fees on registering a vehicle, but the actual cost was $880, according to the audit. The cash register recorded a payment of $880. The remaining $263 was not in that day's bank deposit from the office, the audit said.

Blevins would not provide auditors will all of her office's cash register tapes, according to a news release from Edelen's office, raising the potential that there were more unrecorded receipts in 2011 than those cited.

The 2009, 2010 and 2011 audits also noted other accounting problems in the office. In 2011, for instance, the office calculated taxes on some transactions incorrectly.

Blevins also hired her brother in January 2011 at a salary above that of another employee who'd been there since 2008, the audit said.

In a vehement response included with the 2011 report, Blevins said she had run her office correctly and given the auditor's office all required spending documentation.

Conway's office investigated referrals from the auditor's office. That investigation continues.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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