The city of Prichard is increasing the oversight of its finances after a second high-ranking employee in as many years was indicted for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers.
Former city clerk Kim Green, who also went by Kimberly Pettway, was indicted on state charges of first-degree theft and violation of Alabama’s ethics laws in December. Almost simultaneously, documents were unsealed showing she’d already pleaded guilty to similar charges in federal court — admitting to embezzlement and theft during her time in Prichard and in her previous job as the city clerk in Creola.
In her guilty plea, Green admitted to stealing at least $158,449 from the city of Prichard through a number of fraudulent practices and to “[gambling] with city cash at casinos.”
According to court filings, Green routinely retained cash paid to Prichard’s municipal court for herself and diverted funds from the city’s general fund as well as its judicial administration fund into multiple personal accounts.
District Attorney Ashley Rich announced state charges against Green on Dec. 23 — three days after she was booked into Mobile County Metro Jail. Green has not yet been arraigned or entered any kind of plea.
Reached by Lagniappe last week, Prichard Mayor Jimmie Gardner said it was “unfortunate” Green abused the public’s trust, but he also rejected criticism he’s faced as the appointing authority who hired her.
“I take responsibility because it happened on my watch, but I won’t take responsibility for someone else’s thievery,” he said. “I don’t have a crystal ball. Background checks were done, of course, but [she was] hired at the end of the day. You put your trust in people hoping they’ll do what’s right.”
Gardner also noted “almost every city in this whole county has experienced these kinds of things” and pointed to the fact that Green also recently admitted to stealing upwards of $240,000 from Creola — a position she resigned from just as city officials were preparing to fire her over suspected theft.
Unlike in Creola, where officials notified authorities of fraud they already suspected, Prichard’s leaders seemed to be unaware of Green’s activities until Rich’s office and the FBI were already involved. With that said, court filings did indicate Green took several steps to conceal her fraudulent activities from other city officials in Prichard that included the creation of “false electronic deposit records.”
Gardner said he was never given a reason to suspect anything was amiss.
“There’s really no way for you to know or not know, if someone is smart enough to maneuver things in such a way that you can’t determine or understand what’s taking place … especially when you’re talking about people who head up an entire department,” he said. “This was someone who understood how to do this and was able to get it accomplished … nothing more than that.”
Creola Mayor Bill Criswell did tell Lagniappe he sent a letter to the Mobile County Personnel Board highlighting the fact that, even though Green resigned, she didn’t leave Creola “under favorable circumstances.” There’s been no indication Prichard officials were aware of Criswell’s letter or that Green was the subject of two ongoing criminal investigations when she was hired in 2017.
Green’s state charges were also announced just days after another former Prichard official was indicted on public corruption charges in federal court. James A. Blackman, Gardner’s former chief of staff, was arrested in February 2018 on dozens of state charges for theft and using his position for personal gain.
Blackman already pleaded guilty in state court to stealing well over $100,000 from the city, but the case has been delayed awaiting a ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court.
In December, a federal grand jury handed down an indictment against Blackman making similar allegations. Stealing from any municipality that receives more than $10,000 a year in federal grants can be prosecuted as a federal crime.
Federal prosecutors haven’t commented on any of the investigations involving Pirchard’s finances, but Rich said the victims in Blackman and Green’s cases are the “hardworking members of the community.”
“The citizens of Prichard have already been victims of [Blackman] taking a tremendous amount of money, and now we have this on top of that,” Rich said. “Prichard is bleeding and it’s really sad to see because the city has great potential. Yet, we have had people that are right there in City Hall taking from the citizens who need them the most.”
With Green’s state and federal charges now public, Prichard officials are taking steps to improve the oversight of the city’s finances and are expected to continue making changes going forward. The Prichard City Council called a special meeting last week to address the issue in light of the recent developments.
An administrative assistant to the council wasn’t immediately available for comment, but reports indicate the council agreed to separate the city clerk and treasurer roles that Green used to occupy into two separate positions, which will have to be approved by the personnel board. The council also voted to limit the authorized signatories on city checks to the council president and chairman of the finance committee.
Some councilors indicated that personnel from Rich’s office could be involved with the council’s finance committee meetings going forward, though exactly what role they might play remains unclear.
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