Nelsonville’s deputy auditor was indicted Monday, Feb. 10 on multiple felony charges related to alleged fabrication of payroll records and theft of over $40,000 from the city of Nelsonville.
Stephanie Wilson, 46, of Stewart, was indicted by an Athens County grand jury for tampering with evidence, a felony of the fourth degree; forgery, a felony of the fourth degree; and telecommunications fraud, a felony of the third degree.
“The case was reported to the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office by newly elected Auditor of the City of Nelsonville, Taylor Sappington, after he found irregularities in the payroll and direct deposit reports,” Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn said in a press release. “Wilson, who worked for the city of Nelsonville as a Deputy Auditor and was responsible for payroll since 2012, is accused of fabricating payroll records to have money electronically transferred to an account under her control. The amount of alleged theft is in excess of $40,000.”
According to the release, the Prosecutor’s Office Investigators executed a search warrant on Wilson’s office in Nelsonville City Hall. Sappington has been cooperative and open to finding issues with Nelsonville’s city finances.
Sappington has only been in the position of city auditor for a few months, having won the race for auditor in the November election. He beat former Auditor Garry Dickerson who had held the office since 2014.
New interim City Manager Scott Frank noted that he never met Wilson, but he is thankful to Sappington and the rest of the audit staff for how the matter was handled.
“His team recognized the problem, reported the problem and got the proper authorities involved immediately,” Frank said. “The city workers have rallied around the audit team, which makes me really proud as well, they helped with time sensitive tasks.
“Right now, the biggest priority is that the employees are taken care of as far as pay and benefits go,” Frank said. “The second priority is to evaluate all of our process to make sure we are compliant.”
Blackburn reported that the office of the Auditor of State Keith Faber has been asked to assist in the investigation. Wilson has not yet been arraigned, and due to her current cooperation, will appear for her arraignment “at a later date.”
Wilson has resigned from her position as a board member for Federal Hocking Local Schools, which is an unrelated position, and has also resigned from her position with the city of Nelsonville. During her race for school board, Wilson touted her experience with budgets and position as deputy auditor, saying she would be able to help with Fed Hock’s faltering budget.
The city of Nelsonville has been in a budget crisis for the past several years, and Wilson has been vocal about how difficult the job has been for her, noting she has struggled with the backlash from citizens when she has had to shut off water service. Wilson was running most of the Nelsonville Auditor office this past year when then-auditor Garry Dickerson was having health issues and was unable to be in the office.
According to previous Nelsonville City Council meetings, money is tight. A $20,000 request at the last October meeting resulted in then-city manager Chuck Barga noting that the city could cover that expense, but “it will be tight.”
At the last Nelsonville City Council meeting held Feb. 10, the council discussed an ordinance that would put the city into a contract with C&J Tax Services, who would be overseeing the city’s payroll services.
“I do feel comfortable saying ... that I’d like to thank Leslie Yinger,” Sappington told council. “Leslie took the budget numbers for 2020 and all the actual expenditures from 2019, and studied it so closely that she noticed a few things off and had a few questions, which led us to today ... She’s an example of the value of great employees who pay attention.”
Corruption has also been a discussion among the Nelsonville city government, with concerns arising last year of violations of the city charter when it appeared Barga was taking direct orders from certain members of council. An investigation into those charter violations was launched last year, to be conducted by attorney Tim Gleeson.