CHESTER -- State investigators found insufficient evidence to pursue any criminal charges during their months-long investigation into the city of Chester's finances, according to an investigative report released this week by the State Law Enforcement Division.
The four-page document, obtained by The Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request, states that SLED agents specifically focused on two of the 26 problems discovered in 2006 by an accounting firm handling the city's overdue 2003-2004 audit.
The 26 problems, including missing bank statements and city credit card payments that lacked matching receipts, prompted city leaders to request the SLED investigation in February. The case was closed in the fall.
One of the issues agents probed was a 2003 city check written by former Chester City Council member Daisy Atkinson to Duke Power to pay her personal electric bill of $213.94, according to the SLED report. The check bore the city account number and was signed by Atkinson.
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SLED interviewed Atkinson in March at her Chester home, according to the report. "It should be noted Daisy Atkinson is 81 years old and suffers from several infirmities including a reported loss of memory and a heart condition," the document states. "She acknowledged her signature was written on the check but had no recollection of the check and denied ever using a city check to pay a personal bill."
Atkinson could not provide an explanation for the check and said she never knew the city's bank account number when she served on the City Council in the early 1990s, the report states. She had no official position with the city in 2003.
Atkinson could not be reached for comment.
The other problem SLED investigated stemmed from the auditors' inability to distinguish forfeited money from seized dollars in the city's drug fund. When SLED interviewed Chester Police Chief Mike Brown in March, he said the drug fund was managed by the city's finance director.
"Seized monies and forfeited monies were receipted directly to the city finance director by a narcotics supervisor," the report states. "Chief Brown had no direct knowledge of how the account was organized but supposed seized and forfeited monies were combined in the account."
Brown told SLED that all drug money was accounted for and his officers followed proper procedures, according to the report. No seized money was stored at the police department.
In July, Assistant Attorney General Jason Peavy finished reviewing SLED's findings, "determining a lack of evidence to warrant criminal prosecution," the report states.
When asked about SLED's findings Thursday, Chester Mayor Mitch Foster said the city was notified of the findings in the fall. Foster said former City Administrator David Mobley, who resigned in November, knew about the results and some council members looked at the document.
Foster was pleased the investigation didn't yield criminal charges.
"I'm delighted over that," he said. "There are some irregularities and some questions of judgment, but we just accept that and we'll go on."
Not all city leaders were aware of the report, including Councilwoman Linda Tinker, chairwoman of the finance committee.
"I have never seen it," she said when contacted by The Herald on Thursday. "This is the first I've heard (of the report)."
Tinker said she couldn't comment on the report because she hadn't seen it, but, like Foster, she said the city needs to move on.
"We just need to put all of that behind us and move forward because we've got a great working council and a great mayor," she said. "I'm glad it's over."
For more than a year, city leaders have been frustrated by financial problems, including backlogged audits, the resignation of a finance director and a delayed budget. Officials hope to have all the city's books in order by November.