The former administrative assistant for the county judge was arrested Tuesday morning on six felony counts alleging fraudulent use of the county's credit card, including personal purchases for items ranging from Arkansas Razorback tickets to a tuxedo for her dog.
Kristi Lyn Goss, 43, who lists an address of 107 Brandiles Lane, turned herself in on the charges shortly after 9 a.m. and was later released on $50,000 bond. Four of the counts involve amounts more than $25,000, each punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and two counts involve amounts more than $5,000, each punishable by up to 10 years, for a total of 100 years if run consecutively.
Goss had been employed by Garland County since 2004, starting under former County Judge Larry Williams, and was officially terminated on June 3, 2016. She had reportedly left her position at the end of May after the allegations came to light.
Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Terri Harris filed the charges directly to Garland County Circuit Court Friday and took the unusual step of announcing the filing, telling The Sentinel-Record, "I am upset because there have been insinuations and statements made on the internet and over the radio that the Garland County judge's office is under investigation and there have been indications that I personally have been dragging my feet which we have not."
She said all county employees have "fully cooperated" with the investigation and "no one else other than the person we have charged is implicated in any wrongdoing with the use of the card."
Harris had originally filed seven counts against Goss, but the affidavit was amended Monday to six counts.
County Judge Davis issued the following statement regarding Goss on Sunday:
"Due to the fact that this is a criminal case involving a former employee who continues under investigation, I'm told that my comments must be limited at this time. This ex-employee was one that I inherited. The following statement will be the only statement I make at this time.
"Late in the day on May 24, 2016, the Financial Department uncovered some financial irregularities with the county credit card and reported these to me. That same day, I immediately notified the credit card company, State Legislative Audit, the prosecuting attorney, the sheriff, and the county attorney to request an investigation of the irregularities. Consequently, after reviewing the findings that I based my request on, investigations were initiated by the appropriate authorities. At that time, the termination process for this employee was initiated according to the steps outlined by counsel from the county attorney and county policy. I can assure you that upon discovery of these irregularities, appropriate actions were immediately taken with full cooperation with the appropriate authorities.
"I am proud of the new financial department who now not only provides assistance to all departments, but provides an additional level of oversight and accountability. After only a couple of months in operation, this department uncovered these irregularities that might never have been found otherwise. I applaud the Quorum Court's decision to work with me and others to put this additional assistance, oversight and accountability into place. I want to publicly thank and acknowledge the tremendous amount of work in this case by the prosecuting attorney and her office along with the state auditors and the Arkansas State Police.
"I hope for swift justice in this situation and hope a message has been sent to all that any and all misconduct and noncompliance with county policy and the law will not be tolerated and appropriate actions will always be taken to bring justice."
According to the affidavit filed by ASP Special Agent David Moss, he was assigned to investigate the case July 1 and was informed by Legislative Auditor Jimmy Locke that Goss was alleged to have fraudulently charged approximately $200,000 worth of items, including personal bill payments, to a Garland County credit card. Locke noted he was still conducting his audit and the dollar amount of suspected fraudulent charges could change.
On July 15, Moss met with Harris, her staff and Locke and learned Garland County Comptroller Susan Ashmore discovered the discrepancies regarding the county's credit card, which was obtained in December 2011, during the latter part of May 2016 after Goss was not paying county bills on time and "not executing her duties in a timely manner."
Locke states he discovered 3,722 charges that had been made on the card between December 2011 and May 2016 and confirmed $70,523.64 in personal purchases made by Goss using subpoenaed business records. He also identified $92,074.48 in additional purchases that are suspected to be personal in nature, based on the names of the businesses where the purchases were made. The total amount of unauthorized purchases was $162,598.12.
Locke noted he was still waiting on business records for additional purchases totaling $191,887.78, the majority of which were unauthorized, but were not confirmed as personal. Harris and Locke both stated Goss is suspected of taking and redirecting funds allocated for other Garland County departments and using those funds to pay the credit card bills.
Some of the confirmed personal purchases listed in the affidavit included payments to Entergy for her electric bills of more than $4,400; to AT&T for her cellphone bills of more than $4,900; tickets to Arkansas Razorback games totaling $975; car payments totaling $1,200; her personal real estate taxes totaling $1,895; hotel gift cards totaling more than $1,850; a diamond bracelet for $128.98 and sequin throw pillows for $87.98.
The affidavit notes the first confirmed personal purchase made by Goss was on Oct. 29, 2012, for an electric bill payment to Entergy and the last was on May 25, 2016, for an internet purchase from Amazon.
On Aug. 31, Moss interviewed Davis, who told him Goss had worked for the county for 11 to 12 years before she was terminated. Davis said Goss was responsible for ordering and purchasing IT type equipment for the county as well as paying various bills. She would purchase the items using the county credit card account number while the actual card was kept by Mary Culpepper, chief of staff to Davis, who was Goss' immediate supervisor.
Davis said when he was informed by Ashmore about some of the county bills not being paid on time and the outstanding balance on the credit card, he and Culpepper spoke to Goss. Further investigation revealed the personal and unauthorized purchases made by Goss and he immediately contacted Harris and the Legislative Audit.
Culpepper told Moss upon reviewing some of the credit card claims she discovered "some of the months did not match and the same statement was being used numerous times." She said only the first page of the credit card statement was with the invoice and not an itemized or detailed statement.
She stated when she would sign off and approve the invoices prepared by Goss the detailed statement would not be present and "she just trusted Goss due to her being a long-standing employee." She said further review began uncovering payments made to Star Finance, which was used by a local car dealership where Goss had purchased a vehicle, Goss' insurance company, Goss' children's school and to pay Goss' home water bill.
Moss interviewed Valerie Dodge, Garland County human resources director, who also helped research the charges and discovered the ones for Goss' car payments and cellphone bill. Dodge stated other charges included purchases made to Amazon.com, which included clothes as well as a tuxedo for Goss' dog, a pug, that coincided with her children attending prom during the spring.
According to the affidavit, Cathy Gaylene Tankersley, who is responsible for accounts payable for the county, told Moss she was always having a problem with Goss' claims balancing out with the submitted invoices. She said Goss "would always come up with an excuse." She said Goss would bring her several claims and "always want her to rush them through due to them being past due."
On Aug. 31, at 1:15 p.m., Moss states he and Locke went to Goss' residence to interview her and were told by Goss' niece she was not home. Moss spoke to Goss on the phone and she told him she was in "south Arkansas" and would not be back until later that evening.
She agreed to meet with Moss the next day, but when he called her that morning she told him she had retained two attorneys, one from Little Rock and one from Hot Springs, and was told not to speak to Moss without one of them present. Moss asked for the name of the attorney and she would not tell him.Local on 10/26/2016
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