Crime

Former Lynch clerk charged with stealing more than $137,000

Former City Clerk Kellie Maggard has been charged with stealing more than $137,000 from the city of Lynch in Harlan County.

Maggard is accused of writing herself 75 checks and forging former Mayor Bob Collier's name, stealing $50,804.44. Also, $86,348.03 in cash paid to the city to pay for services such as citizens' water bills was missing from city coffers. More than $500 in city electric bills had gone unpaid, and Maggard allegedly falsified records to show they had been paid, police said.

Maggard's arrest Wednesday follows an almost five-month investigation by Kentucky State Police Detective Mike Cornett and an auditor employed by the state police, Billie Ann Withers.

The investigation was launched in May, after Collier resigned for health reasons. One of his last acts as mayor was to suspend Maggard and report his suspicions of theft and forgery to Kentucky State Police.

In 2007, it was discovered that the city had not paid taxes to the IRS since 2002, Collier said in July. He fired one city clerk who he says had been paying the most pressing bills and letting the tax bills go, and he hired Maggard in April 2008. But just a few months later, Collier received word that the city's electricity and oil and gas accounts were about to be cut off for non-payment. Collier said his name was on checks that he didn't remember signing, and bills had gone unpaid for the entire year Maggard was clerk.

After Collier resigned, the city council appointed retired pastor Ronnie Hampton as mayor, with hopes of building back trust and accountability in the city. In letters sent to former residents and members of the East Kentucky Social Club, which started in Lynch and has chapters all over the country, Hampton made a plea for donations. At last count, those letters brought in about $8,000.

Hampton said he attended a Chicago chapter function over Labor Day weekend and was given a $500 donation. So far, the city is staying afloat but not getting ahead, he said, paying current bills with water payments and taxes coming in, and paying down small amounts on the past bills with fund-raisers and donations.

The losses from the alleged thefts will be partly covered if Maggard is convicted, because she was bonded for $25,000.

The city has pulled together in the crisis, said new Assistant City Clerk Kimberly Ealy. She started work in July.

"Everyone still is trying to figure out ways to help the city," Ealy said. The city has been selling Bulldog pins celebrating the old high school mascot, Ealy said. Owners of the Tri City Ambulance Service recently helped raise $1,100 from a benefit auction at a city celebration, and a golf tournament is being planned in the next couple of weeks, she said.

Also, the city is under an agreed order to make fixes to the water and sewer system to avoid another financial burden of hefty fines from the state Division of Water, Hampton said.

"I keep telling my people, we're just like a GPS system. It never asks you how you got lost, it just asks you what's your destination," Hampton said.

Maggard is being held in the Harlan County Detention Center on $100,000 full cash bond. Her charges total 75 counts of possession of forged checks, 75 counts of theft by deception, theft by unlawful taking of more than $10,000, theft of services, official misconduct and abuse of public trust of more than $100,000.

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