Friday afternoon, a search warrant issued by Superior Court Judge Bradley B. Letts for the Macon County Board of Elections became available to the public. The search warrant, which sites Assistant Special Agent in Charge T.D. Ammons of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation as the applicant on the warrant, states that there is “probable cause to believe that the Office of the Macon County Board of Elections has been used to commit the offense of embezzlement.”
The search warrant states that on Friday January 17, both Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland and District Attorney Mike Bonfoey requested the SBI’s assistance regarding possible financial crimes at the board of elections office, at which point Ammons was assigned to the investigation.
On Tuesday, January 21, Ammons met with Lori Hall, Macon County’s finance director, and obtained information regarding potential problems with Macon County Board of Elections’ checks regarding accounts payable. Ammons reported that Hall was advised that a trustworthy source reported that individuals who were not conducting work for the board of elections, were being paid by the board of elections.
Names identified in the search warrant for receiving checks from the board of elections include Sonya Stevens, Misty Henry or Misty Bryson, Kathy Holland, and Cassidy Ledford. After reviewing the county’s financial records, it was found that the signatures of approval on the check requests were different and lacked good documentation as to why these individuals were getting money. Through various records, Hall discovered more than $50,000 had been paid out to Sonya Stevens, Misty Henry or Misty Bryson, Kathy Holland, and Cassidy Ledford. The dates on the checks range from June 2013 through January 2014.
Members of the board of elections were made aware of the findings on Tuesday, January 14. By Friday, the locks at the office were change and the office was closed. “I stand behind the decisions and recommendations I previously made related to the board of elections,” said Sheriff Robbie Holland. “I will not make any statements to interfere with the integrity of our investigation. I am confident that a thorough and professional investigation is being conducted by both the Macon County Sheriff’s Department and State Bureau of Investigation.”
Checks that were printed off from Wells Fargo made out to the previously mentioned individuals revealed that the checks had been endorsed by Macon County Board of Elections Director Kimberly Bishop. There was no documentation to back up the initial requests for the checks and signatures from Board of Elections Chairman Luke Bateman and board member Sara Waldroop on the requests varied.
What investigators discovered
Ammons found nine check requests made out to Cassidy Ledford, all of which were requested by Bishop. Two check requests were shown to be signed and approved by Waldrop, three were shown to be signed and approved by Bateman, while four were not signed or approved by any board members. The nine checks for Ledford totaled $14,296.81. The endorsement signatures on the checks to Ledford were “Cassidy Ledford” and co-endorsed by Kimberly Bishop. The signature on the first check to Ledford was signed “Cassady Ledford,” while the other eight checks were signed “Cassidy Ledford.” When Ledford was interviewed, she informed officers that she had assisted Bishop at the board of elections. Ledford indicated she assisted Bishop after hours and on the weekends totaling 30 to 40 hours of work since July. Ledford was shown copies of the checks made out to her at which point she informed officers that she has never seen those checks but had received $2,000 cash from Bishop.
The search warrant application stated that 10 check requests had been made for Sonya Stevens. Nine of the 10 checks were made by Bishop with one of the requests had no signature in the requested by line. Two check requests were signed and approved by Waldroop, three were signed by Bateman and the other five requests were not signed by any board members. The 10 checks for Stevens totaled $12,578 with dates ranging from July 2013 to January 2014. Ammons reviewed the checks made out to Stevens and found that the endorsement signatures on the checks included signatures from Stevens, Misty Bryson, Misty Henry and Kimberly Bishop.
The investigation showed nine check requests to Misty Bryson or Misty Henry, which is believed to be the same individual. One check request was signed and approved by Waldroop, four were signed and approved by Bateman, and five requests were not signed or approved by any board members. The nine checks totaled $16,240. With dates ranging from June 2013 to December 2013. Five of the nine checks were made out to Misty Bryson and were endorsed by Misty Bryson, Misty Henry and Kimberly Bishop.
Special Agent S.R. Ashe interviewed Sonya Franks “Stevens” and discovered the proper spelling of her name is “Stephens.” Stephens informed officers that she had never worked at the Macon County Board of Elections and that she had never received any monies from the board of elections or Macon County in general.
All of the checks were deposited into accounts with the State Employees’ Credit Union. Despite being made out to different individuals, several checks were deposited into the same account within the bank.
Both Waldroop and Bateman were interviewed regarding their signatures and approval on the check requests, and according to the documents on file with the Clerk of Courts office, Bateman and Waldroop denied signing any of the requests. According to Waldroop, she did not know any of the individuals on the check request forms and never authorized any of those expenses. Macon County Sheriff Department Detective Will Rhoden interviewed Bateman at which point Bateman informed authorities that he did not know the individuals listed on the check request forms and advised that he had never seen the check request forms, nor did he authorize them. Bateman has been the chairman of the Macon County Board of Elections since July 2013 and since taking office, he informed authorities that he had not signed any check request forms.
Bishop is currently on paid-administration leave pending the conclusion of the SBI’s investigation. The investigation remains ongoing and as additional details become available, the Macon County News will continue coverage.