Town of Chapin requests formal investigation by SLED - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Town of Chapin requests formal investigation by SLED

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Chapin Town Clerk Adrienne Thompson Chapin Town Clerk Adrienne Thompson

The Town of Chapin announced Thursday they have made a formal request to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and provided documents to SLED's Investigative Services division for suspected financial irregularities by the suspended town clerk who also acted as the town's treasurer.

Chapin's town clerk had no idea why she was suspended with pay until a reporter forwarded her an e-mailed statement from Mayor Skip Wilson, according to an interview.

Adrienne Thompson was suspended by the mayor on Friday amid allegations of unauthorized purchasing and misappropriated town funds.

Thompson says she was confronted by Wilson and the town's police chief around 5:45 p.m. Friday.

According to Thompson, Wilson said he was there to sign her paycheck. After he did that, Thompson said, he then asked her if she ever gave a loan to a town employee. She said she did with Mayor Stan Shealy's approval because it was for an employee who wanted to buy out some of her retirement. The town was taking deductions out of each of the employee's paychecks. Once the employee received her first Social Security check, she paid the town back all that was loaned, as it was agreed upon. That payoff happened last week.

Wilson then told Thompson she was suspended and asked for her keys to the office and any other town property she had.

"I said, ‘I don't believe you. Why do you keep after me like this? What are you trying to do?' But he didn't say one thing. He didn't say I was suspended with pay or without pay," Thompson said.

She heard nothing else about the suspension until she was forwarded the statement released by Wilson and Karen Owens on Sunday.

"He won't let me make any decision for the town. He tries to make me look bad all over the place," Thompson said.

While she doesn't know where he's coming up with all the allegations, Thompson said Wilson's misappropriation of funds allegation comes from money used to build town hall. She said Wilson saw the 2012 audit where it said the town had $1 million in its building fund. She said that he came to her and asked where that money was, but it had already been spent on building the town hall by the time he asked about it.

The 2013 audit is under way right now because they had to find a new auditor.

Wilson said the suspension is also a result of Thompson making purchases in excess of authorized town ordinance spending limits, unauthorized personal loans to town employees, improper financial reporting, ethics violations, and nepotism.

As for the nepotism charge, Thompson said her son did "odd jobs" for Mayor Shealy and the police chief around the town. While her son was not the main contractor, Thompson said Mayor Wilson told her it didn't look right. Thompson's son has not done any work for the town since.

"I am so sick for my town. I am so sick that my town has to go through this. I am so sick that it is being run by a dictator. I want to see things restored," Thompson said, while crying.

Wilson said the proper investigative authorities have been notified, and more information will be forthcoming when the investigation is completed. We are working to find out what agency is investigating the mayor's suspicions against Thompson.

"It is a privilege to serve the Town of Chapin as an elected official and as a town employee," Wilson said. "The town clerk is also a public officer of the town, and as such, should also demonstrate the highest standards of trust and compliance for the citizens for which she serves. While this news may be troubling to many, we must ensure that we remain in compliance with all local, state and federal laws."

Council members Vivian Atkins and Kay Hollis told us on Sunday that they did not know Wilson was going to suspend Thompson on Friday, nor do they know any details behind the mayor's allegations against the clerk for misappropriating town funds.

"I did not know anything about this until late Friday," Atkins said. "I have no idea what the allegations are or why Vicki Azarigian was fired."

Former town receptionist Vicki Azarigian was fired Thursday by Wilson. Atkins said in a letter given to Azarigian, the mayor said the town is "reorganizing."

Information attorney Spencer "Andy" Syrett, who represents majority of Chapin's town council, received concerning Azarigian was that she was paid overtime for working a weekend to monitor the town's community room. Syrett said that Wilson claimed Azarigian was an exempt employee and asked Thompson to get the overtime pay back from Azarigian. Thompson refused and said that Azarigian was a non-exempt employee and deserved the overtime pay.

"I did not see anything in the mayor's letter to Vicki (Azarigian) that I interpreted as stating that Vicki's work was not acceptable," Syrett said. "My clients are unaware of any restructuring plans."

Hollis was also oblivious to the mayor's decision to suspend the town clerk, but she told WIS that before Wilson suspended Thompson that he had the locks changed at Town Hall on Friday.

"I still am not aware of the allegations of misappropriating funds or any of the other allegations against her that Wilson states in his statement," Hollis said. "I do not believe she is guilty of any wrongdoing. As soon as Mayor Wilson took office, he began bullying, harassing and threatening the clerk and dumping extra work on her, often keeping her at Town Hall until 7, 8 or 9 in the evening without any overtime pay."

In a statement released by the Town of Chapin on Sunday, Wilson said Atkins, Hollis and councilman Robert Frick threatened him through Syrett to call a special meeting if Thompson and Azarigian were not reinstated by April 28.

Syrett's email to Wilson's attorney Todd Carroll said he would advise Atkins "to hold a special meeting of Council as soon as possible to initiate the steps necessary to consider the mayor's qualifications to hold office and to explore whatever steps that are available to remove him from office in the most expedient manner possible."

Carroll replied to Syrett's email Monday morning and sent a copy to Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr., asking "to re-engage" the judge to discuss the lawsuit with town council and to set a conference with the judge and the plaintiffs to "ensure that the town is able to conduct its business in an orderly way without the specter of ongoing litigation."

Syrett said Wilson should have presented his findings to Council before taking an action to suspend Thompson. He also thinks the mayor does not have the authority to suspend the town clerk, who serves at the pleasure of Council. 

"If the mayor is not immediately forthcoming - and I mean by noon on Monday - with the particulars which are the basis of his actions by making a specific written report to Council, I will recommend that a special meeting be called to deal with this matter," Syrett said. "The ball is now in the mayor's court."

Wilson said he started reviewing town operations shortly after the November election in preparation for assuming the role of chief executive officer for the Town of Chapin. Wilson was sworn in as mayor in January.

"As the review process progressed, the number of irregularities and violations in recording transactions, financial reporting, and excessive and unauthorized spending led him to initiate a more detailed investigation into Mrs. Thompson's behavior. Furthermore, at the March 4 meeting of Town Council, Mayor Wilson addressed this concern before the council and public in attendance of her excessive spending," the statement goes on to say.

Councilman Gregg White said he will await to see the results of the investigation and will not be influenced to side with any person or group concerning the allegations against Thompson.

"I believe that each council member should be independent and make their decisions based on the findings without being manipulated by outside sources for personal benefit," White said. "These decisions should be in the best interest of the Town of Chapin and not for any one individual or groups of individuals."

On Friday afternoon, Wilson and White appeared in Richland County court to overturn the results of two special called meetings by which the other three council members amended a town ordinance to remove Wilson's sole control over council meeting agendas. The judge is taking Friday's motion information under advisement and asked the attorneys to provide proposed orders within 10 days.

"The lawsuit brought by Atkins, Hollis and Frick is about authority over meeting agendas, and the suspension of Mrs. Thompson is totally unrelated," Wilson said. "Anyone who thinks the two are related must be longing for the days of the former mayor, when he controlled the agenda without challenges from the rest of the council and allegedly authorized Mrs. Thompson to hand out town funds as personal loans. He's the only link between these two unrelated matters that are keeping Chapin from moving forward."

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