A 23-year former employee of the Mobile County Water, Sewer and Fire Protection Authority, who was fired last year after a forensic audit, has sued the Authority and the consulting firm that conducted the audit for damages related to her termination.
In a nine-page complaint Sylvia Hutto, the former office manager at MCWSFPA, said the audit “wrongfully accused (her) of criminal and ethical violations under state and/or federal law” and amounted to an “unsubstantiated witch hunt.”
Named as defendants are Virginia Shanahan and Darryl Wilson of DV Consulting, who conducted the audit; the MCWSFPA as a public corporation; Joe Summersgill, the utility’s longtime general manager; plus three individual board members — Preston Smith, James White and Lois Rockhold.
The lawsuit claims the audit was initiated by County Commissioner Jerry Carl as “a favor” to political gadfly Johnny Hatcher, who campaigned for Carl against then-County Commissioner Mike Dean. In fact, in a March 2013 meeting of the MCWSFA Board of Directors, Carl suggested the audit as a response to “bad press” the authority received during a review Lagniappe performed of the board’s procedures and operational expenses.
The following June, the board entered into a contract with DV Consulting. Hutto claims neither Shanahan or Wilson were qualified to perform the audit and were chosen because of their mutual relationship with Hatcher, who she claims also served Shanahan during her failed campaign for mayor of Dauphin Island.
Both Wilson and Shanahan are Certified Fraud Examiners, according to a February 2013 news release by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The association claimed that the two “met a stringent set of criteria and passed a rigorous exam administered by the ACFE” to obtain the certification, which qualifies them to “examine data and records to detect and trace fraudulent transactions; interview suspects to obtain information and confessions; write investigation reports; advise clients as to their findings; testify at trial; understand the law as it relates to fraud and fraud investigations; and identify the underlying factors that motivate individuals to commit fraud.”
The complaint states that DV Consulting’s report, which was completed at a cost of $10,700, was “incomplete, inaccurate, not based on fact, not related to the scope of work DVC was contracted to do, is based on the speculation and conjection (sic) of Wilson and Shanahan, is slanderous to the Plaintiff and is patently biased in favor of Summersgill and against the Plaintiff.”
The report accused Hutto of a number of wrongdoings, including shoddy record keeping, destroying documents in violation of state law, intimidating employees and improperly compensating her husband, Mark, who served as a contractor for the utility. It also reported that Hutto tried to make Summersgill the focus of the investigation, while instructing other employees not to cooperate with Shanahan or Wilson.
In her lawsuit, Hutto again tries to implicate Summersgill, accusing DV Consulting of an “intentional oversight” in its failure to report his own inappropriate conduct. Hutto is represented by attorney Thomas Benton Jr.
“The report … is slanderous to the Plaintiff and is patently biased in favor of Summersgill and against the Plaintiff,” the lawsuit said.
Among her accusations is that Summersgill awarded a number of no-bid contracts for car repair to his brother-in-law, used his business credit card to purchase personal items, didn’t keep regular office hours, didn’t turn in receipts for credit card purchases, refused a GPS tracking device required for all other MCWSFPA vehicles and refused mandatory drug testing required of all other MCWSFPA employees.
DV Consulting’s report recommended the removal of Sylvia and Mark Hutto, along with two other employees. Hutto was terminated during a board meeting Aug. 6 in a majority vote by board members Smith, White and Rockhold.
“If the findings of DVC were brought before a judicial body it is believed indictments and convictions would be returned for theft and ethical violations under state and/or federal law,” the report concludes.
Hutto claims that “DVC’s Report was not based on fact, but was primarily based on speculation by DVC and on assumptions obtained from persons who do not work at MCWSFPA. DVC conspired with Summersgill, Smith, White, Rockhold and others who have not yet been identified to reach a recommendation that Hutto and others be terminated …”
Filed Feb. 27, the lawsuit charges the defendants with four counts, including negligence, civil conspiracy, slander and defamation. Hutto seeks damages in excess of $50,000 for each count, plus court costs. The MCWSFPA has not responded to the claim.