Lake Norman & Mooresville

Mooresville suspends police chief

Mooresville police Chief John Crone was suspended with pay Tuesday while the town investigates how he spent money in the Police Department's Cops for Kids program.

After a lengthy meeting that began Monday night, town officials early Tuesday called on the Iredell County District Attorney's Office to investigate the program and ordered an outside audit of the program's finances by a private company.

District Attorney Garry Frank said his office will investigate whether criminal acts were committed in spending program funds.

Crone said Tuesday an outside audit will absolve him of wrongdoing. “Any sloppy bookkeeping, I'll accept, but only after an audit comes out,” he said.

Town commissioners met in closed session for at least four hours Monday night and Tuesday morning before Mayor Bill Thunberg announced a series of steps the town will take in response to questions about the program's finances.

The measures included removing Crone from any association with the program and conducting an internal investigation. Later Tuesday, the town suspended Crone indefinitely and placed police Maj. Carl Robbins in charge of the department.

The Gatton Report blog and the Mooresville Tribune reported last week that some expenditures by the program lacked sufficient documentation showing they were proper. The expenses included, for example, $791 spent at Wal-Mart in December 2003 for video games, “unidentifiable items for unspecified recipients,” and $305.39 spent during two trips to Old Navy in December 2001.

Crone said Tuesday he has receipts for every expenditure and can explain all of the purchases. He also said that he has pushed over the years to have the program placed in the town budget. This year, for the first time, town commissioners included it in the town budget.

Cops for Kids accepts donations, holds fundraisers and sponsors educational field trips, a Christmas party with Santa and other events to improve relations between police and young people in the community.

It was registered in 2001 as a nonprofit corporation with the N.C. Department of the Secretary of State, according to George Jeter, a spokesman for the department.

Interim Town Manager Erskine Smith has directed Crone to remove himself from any association with the program, including financial transactions, Thunberg said. Smith gave Crone a “disciplinary suspension with pay” later Tuesday morning, town attorney Stephen Gambill said.

Smith also directed that all Cops for Kids records should be secured at Town Hall and that the Police Department evidence room be placed under the sole supervision and control of Robbins.

Smith ordered that an inventory of the police evidence room be conducted “to ensure that its integrity is uncompromised,” Thunberg said.

The board directed Maia Setzer, director of administration and finance, to supervise and direct the internal investigation, Thunberg said.

“The town board … is adamant that questions be answered and this matter resolved in a timely fashion to preserve the public trust,” he said.