(LEESVILLE) – In March of this year, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office filed a civil lawsuit against former Guthrie Township Trustee Robert Awbrey.
Awbrey was arrested and charged with official misconduct in July of 2019.
The State is seeking $85,104.19 which includes some of the damages caused by Awbrey and the cost of the investigation.
Three issues have emerged since an audit was conducted by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
One of those issues is that Awbrey did not take out a bond while in office from 2016-2019. Each township trustee is given training on this requirement when taking office.
The following is the Indiana Code Relating to the bond issue – Under Indiana Law to Qualify for office, the following Indiana Code applies: IC- 5-4-1-9 states “An officer required to give an official bond shall give the bond before the commencement of his term of office.
If the officer fails to give the bond before that time, the officer may not take office.
County Auditor must approve the bonds for officeholders: IC 5-4-1-8 states in part “The official bonds of officers, if sufficient, shall be approved as follows . . . township trustee . . . by the county auditor.
The bonds must be payable to the state, IC 5-4-1-10 states – All official bonds shall be payable to the state of Indiana; and every such bond shall be obligatory to such state, upon the principal and sureties, for the faithful discharge of all duties required of such officer by any law, then or subsequently in force, for the use of any person injured by any breach of the condition thereof.
In addition, the amount of the bond must be the following: – IC 5-4-1-18 states in part “(c) Except as provided in subsections (h) and (i), the fiscal bodies of the respective units shall fix the amount of the bond of . . . township trustees . . . as follows: (1) The amount of annual coverage must equal thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) for each one million dollars ($1,000,000) of receipts of the officer’s office during the last complete fiscal year before the purchase of the bond, subject to subdivision (2).
(2) The amount of annual coverage may not be less than thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) nor more than three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000) unless the fiscal body approves a greater amount of annual coverage for the officer or employee. . .
In filing the bond Indiana Code states: IC 5-4-1-5.1 states in part (b) “Every elected or appointed officer, official, deputy, or employee of a political subdivision who is required by section 18 of this chapter to file an official bond for the faithful performance of duty . . . shall file the bond in the office of the county recorder in the county residence of the officer, official, deputy or employee-
Lawrence County Auditor Jody Edwards says she does not know why the bonds were not taken out when Awbrey was a township trustee.
“I am only responsible for ensuring county officeholders and employees have their bonds issued,” Edwards said.
When asked who was responsible Edwards said, “I am not sure, but my office was not required to take out those bonds. Those bonds are the responsibility of the township advisory board.”
At this point in time, no one has taken responsibility or questioned why the former Guthrie Township trustee was allowed to take office. The Republican Caucus appointed Awbrey in his first term and he was elected for a second term of office.
Current Guthrie Township Trustee Stacie Ratliff states she has a bond issued for her and it was taken out when she became a township trustee.
It is still unclear how Awbrey was allowed to remain in office, but the losses occurred under Awbrey’s time as Guthrie Township trustee have yet to be reimbursed. At this point Awbrey has not made any restitution. If a bond was taken out at least part of the money would be recouped by the taxpayers.
When asked if this caused a burden on the township Ratliff said, “We were able to continue without any reduction in services to township residents.”
The second issue is the failure to submit a budget for the 2017 through 2019 budget years. Under Nick Hubbard’s tenure of township trustee, a budget was submitted for the 2016 budget year. Hubbard resigned in 2016 and was replaced by Awbrey. In the following years of 2017 through 2019, there were no budgets submitted for Guthrie Township to the Lawrence County Council.
This should have raised flags for both the township advisory board and the Lawrence County Council.
The third issue identified in the audit of Guthrie Township is that no salary ordinance was created by the township board.
Stacie Ratliff, who is now Guthrie Township Trustee, served on the township board when Awbrey served as township trustee.
“We did have a salary ordinance; however, it was not followed,” Ratliff said.
The State of Indiana completed an audit on September 10, 2019, which states Awbrey’s trustee’s salary should have been $4,200 from 2016-2018. According to the audit, Awbrey was overpaid $1,656.67 in 2016, overpaid $4,758.50 in 2017, and overpaid $8,263.29 in 2018. The total amount overpaid was $14,678.46.
The township board did not meet on a regular basis and only as needed throughout Awbrey’s term as township trustee. There was no oversight by the township advisory board to identify that the township was being overcharged in salary.
“The board now meets on a regular basis; have implemented better checks and balances on the township finances. Nick Hubbard now serves on the township board and has helped us tremendously in keeping things on track for the township,” stated Ratliff.
The total owed to the State of Indiana includes the following:
- Overpaid Compensation – $14,678.46
- Overpaid Office Rent – $1,200
- 13 checks with no supporting documentation – $10,233.88
- Cost of Investigation of by State Board of Accounts – $6,767.17
- Additional Treble damages in the amount of – $52,224.68
- Attorney fees and post-judgment of eight percent interest
Total judgment cost: $85,104.19