Report: Court Dismisses, Expunges Embezzlement Charges Against Cleveland Clerks
CLEVELAND, Oklahoma - Felony embezzlement charges have been dismissed against two former Cleveland city clerks, the Cleveland American reported on Wednesday.
Both Virginia G. Masters, 75, and Tama Cole, 53, confirmed to the newspaper that Pawnee County Associate District Judge Matthew Henry dismissed the charges against them and expunged their records on Dec. 5.
"If the records were expunged, that's it. They're sealed. They're gone," a woman who answered the phone at the Pawnee County Court Clerk's office told the American.
One Cleveland official said he was stunned by the action taken in court.
"It's a mystery to everybody," Cleveland Mayor Ron Shipman said. "You would think the city would be the first to find out about dismissed charges, but our city attorney can't even get a straight answer. To my knowledge, nothing has changed on the city's end. We were expecting the December court date to be the beginning of the preliminary hearing. We're having to play the waiting game like everyone else."
As reported in April by News On 6, an audit performed in 2011 found that $89.447.62, which should have been deposited in the utility fund from July 2009 through September 2011, had not been deposited by Masters.
When the auditing firm brought its results to Cleveland City Manager Elzie Smith, he said he alerted the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation.
With the assistance of city treasurer George Nobles, the OSBI began a six-month investigation.
The OSBI claimed Masters and other city employees would borrow cash from the utility fund collected each day and that Masters used a method of "overlapping" the daily deposits by taking cash from the next day's deposit to cover what others borrowed the previous day.
Other allegations stated Masters allowed her son and daughter in-law to borrow cash from the utility fund.
The Pawnee County District Attorney hinted that the dismissal of charges isn't the end of the road.
DA Rex Duncan told the American, "Our office moved to dismiss for further investigation. The court, on its own motion, expunged the local case file. That does not expunge the law enforcement arrest (OSBI) record."
Masters was an employee of the City of Cleveland for nearly 37 years before retiring in the fall of 2011 around the time allegations surfaced.
Affidavits show Masters told investigators she "borrowed" $6,957.00 from the utility fund with the intent of paying it back. Masters has denied any wrongdoing, and claims to have paid back the money she admitted to borrowing, the American reported in May.
Masters' charge of embezzlement carried a potential 10 years in state prison.
Cole, an assistant clerk, was hired to replace Masters as city clerk in November 2011. Cole's lesser charge of "embezzlement by an officer," carried significantly less jail time if found guilty.