Harrisburg leaders are speaking out after the towns former administrator pleaded guilty to three felony counts of obtaining property by false pretense.Warrants from the State Bureau of Investigation charged Michele Reapsmith with illegally taking about $40,000 by using the towns payroll system from 2009 to 2011. She was indicted by a grand jury in April 2012 and pleaded guilty at hearing earlier in July. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 9 in Cabarrus County Superior Court.In a plea deal, Reapsmith agreed to pay $38,000 in restitution to the town. The deal will likely also mean suspended sentences on all three counts. The maximum sentence on each count is 30 months in prison. Rich Koch, Harrisburgs attorney for 20 years, said its possible but unlikely that Reapsmith will face jail time. Ive seen judges reject a plea arrangement, he said. But usually for a first-time offender, sentences like these are suspended because that person needs to be working to pay restitution.Reapsmith will be under supervised probation for up to five years. During that time, shell have to meet certain conditions and pay restitution, said Koch. If she violates her probation, a Superior Court judge will activate her suspended sentences. When this deal is completed and the judgment is entered, the probation will be transferred to Florida (where Reapsmith lives now), and they will administer it, collect restitution and send it to North Carolina, said Koch.Under a local government risk pool agreement which is similar to an insurance policy the town already has gotten its money back, Koch said. Harrisburg has been through three town administrators, a role similar to town manager but usually with less power, in recent years. In a previous interview, former Town Council member Bob Scaggs said Reapsmith was not the person the N.C. Councils of Governments recommended during the towns search.A brief timelineBefore working with Harrisburg, Reapsmith was the finance manager for the city of Salisbury. The town of Harrisburg hired her as finance director in 2009 and continued to allow her to hold that position after she was named interim town administrator in 2010. Council member Steve Sciascia said a personnel-related incident created suspicion that led to an internal investigation by the town. The town turned over its findings to the Cabarrus County Sheriffs Department, which eventually gave them to the SBI. The SBI brought charges against Reapsmith to the Cabarrus County District Attorneys office. SBI warrants alleged the crimes took place from March 2009 to April 2011, during which Reapsmith made payments to herself totaling more than $44,000 above her $88,000 annual salary.A warrant alleged Reapsmith paid herself more than $7,500 through four separate payroll transactions in 2009. A second warrant alleged that she took roughly $35,000 through 11 different transactions between January and July 2010. A third warrant said she took more than $1,400 between March and April 2011.While the investigation was ongoing, Reapsmith said her departure was a mutually beneficial decision. In October 2012, the Harrisburg Town Council suspended her contract during a special closed meeting. Reapsmith did not receive a compensation or severance package, but she was paid through her last month of employment. Mike Rose was appointed to town administrator in July 2012.Council wants jail timeSciascia said the town might have avoided the situation if Reapsmith hadnt been both the town administrator and the finance director.When we found out (about the charges), it was extremely disappointing to council members, said Sciascia. Our trust was violated and, clearly, she knew more than we did.Council members are aware that Reapsmiths sentences could be suspended because its her first offense, said Sciascia. But they still hope she gets some jail time. You would think the law would be a little bit harsher. Granted, shell never work in a financial institution again, but shes essentially just walking away, so were all a little disappointed, said Sciascia.Safeguards in placeMayor Tim Hagler and Town Council members Chad Baucom and Jeff Phillips also served while Reapsmith worked as finance director, town administrator or both. Efforts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful.After learning about the incident, Sciascia said town officials separated the finance director position and the town administrator position so it would take multiple people for this kind of wrongdoing to occur. One person cant have the keys to the kingdom and, apparently, (Reapsmith) did, and I think it was unbeknownst to us, he said. One would have thought that we had controls in place to ensure that didnt happen, but I promise you we certainly have them in place now. Unless multiple people are in cahoots, I dont think it will ever happen again.Rick Russo, who has served on the Town Council for almost two years, wasnt in office when the investigation began; he learned what had happened after being elected in 2011. I figured out what happened by listening to everyone talk about how she was writing herself checks, said Russo. Going forward, the town will intensify its oversight efforts and will require two signatures on every check issued, said Russo.Weve hired a really good town administrator and everybodys watching a lot closer now, said Russo. I think this opened a lot of eyes.
Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013
Former Harrisburg administrator pleads guilty
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