Carl Richards, director of Madison County's emergency management agency, was suspended indefinitely this week after an internal audit revealed the theft of $341,757 from a federally funded emergency preparedness program, county Judge-Executive Reagan Taylor said Wednesday.
The alleged theft began as early as April 2006. Documentation has been turned over to Kentucky State Police as part of an investigation, Taylor said.
In addition, Taylor has asked state Auditor Adam Edelen to conduct a "full county audit." Taylor said he intends to ask Madison County Fiscal Court to approve the state audit at a future meeting.
"Any kind of countywide audit, we have to vote on that at fiscal court," Taylor said. "We're going to have a meeting with Adam Edelen's office around the first of June."
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The state audit will probably take six to seven months, said Colleen Chaney, the deputy judge-executive.
Richards, who has been emergency management director since 2004, was suspended Tuesday, Taylor said. Richards could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Wednesday's announcement came on the heels of the arrest this month of Tamara Phelps, former finance officer for the Madison County Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program. The program educates and enhances emergency preparedness in communities surrounding the chemical weapons stockpile stored at Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond.
Kentucky State Police arrested Phelps, 54, and charged her with 60 counts of first-degree forgery and one count of unlawful taking over $10,000.
Phelps is accused of stealing nearly $34,000 in property and services from the CSEPP program, state police said at the time. She allegedly forged Richards' signature on purchase orders and numerous reimbursement sheets through fiscal court, Taylor said.
The $34,000 figure was based on this fiscal year that began last summer, Taylor said. But when the county, with assistance from state police, looked further, evidence was found that traced alleged thefts to 2006, and the amount of money involved grew by 10 times the original amount, Taylor said.
There is no evidence that Richards or any other employee was involved in the thefts, Taylor said Richards had to be held accountable because Phelps reported to Richards. Madison County Fiscal Court fired Phelps by unanimous vote May 12.
Asked whether Richards is in danger of losing his job, Taylor said, "Yes."
"You're talking about something that's been going on since '06, over nine years," Taylor said. "It might sound harsh, but it's not going to be tolerated."
Taylor said he can't dismiss Richards without fiscal court's approval. The next fiscal court meeting is Tuesday. Taylor entered office as Madison County judge-executive in January, after defeating 20-year incumbent Kent Clark last fall.
"I feel like the reason they elected me was to hold people accountable," Taylor said. "This administration is not going to tolerate any misuse of funds."
No interim emergency management director has been appointed, Taylor said.
He said the total CSEPP budget for Madison County is about $14 million. The CSEPP budget will decrease as the Army depot destroys chemical weapons, such as the nerve agents sarin and VX. The process isn't scheduled to begin in earnest until 2020.
Richards' suspension will not affect the construction of a consolidated emergency operations center in Richmond. That project is scheduled to be finished in September, Chaney said.
Ironically, the expanded investigation into the theft of county funds comes as Madison County is rolling out new procedures and safeguards to prevent such things.
During Richards' time as emergency management director, he had overseen the installation of a new $18 million digital radio system for public safety. The new system replaced an aging analog system for which replacement parts were difficult to find.