The Benton County comptroller has been placed on administrative leave while the criminal case progresses against three former county employees arrested in a theft and corruption case last year.
Comptroller Sarah Daniels was placed on paid leave Friday in connection with the criminal case, officials said. Daniels and Scott Stober, the former Benton County administrator who resigned after his arrest, married each other after the case broke, officials said.
Stober, Grant McCracken and Jack Brown were scheduled Monday to begin their theft trial. Their trial, though, was pushed back to July 22, according to the Benton County Prosecutor’s Office. A pretrial hearing to determine whether a deal can be worked out between the two sides was set for June 30.
Stober pleaded not guilty last August to three counts of felony theft of property. Stober was arrested July 30 after the Sheriff’s Office received information that led them to suspect he was misusing county money.
Brown, the former road superintendent, also pleaded not guilty in August to charges of felony theft, misdemeanor theft of services and misdemeanor obstructing government operations. McCracken, former road construction superintendent, pleaded not guilty to a charge of misdemeanor accomplice to theft, also in August.
Benton County Judge Bob Clinard contacted the Sheriff’s Office after McCracken and county fleet supervisor Drew McConnell met with him at his home to discuss possible misuse of county funds by Stober.
“The immediate thought was I’m going to turn this over to the sheriff’s department and look into it, which is the right thing to do,” Clinard said.
An arrest warrant affidavit states Brown was an accomplice of Stober, his supervisor. Stober was arrested on July 30 for allegedly using county money for personal use and Brown was suspended with pay at the same time.
Benton County authorities said Brown, during the course of five interviews since July 31, admitted to collecting cash envelopes from Rogers Iron and Metal, the affidavit said. RIMCO paid cash for scrap metal from Benton County and Brown said he delivered the envelopes to Stober, the affidavit said.
According to the affidavit, Stober adamantly denied Brown’s allegations regarding RIMCO cash payments. Brown told officers, since Stober was his boss, “what Stober tells you to do, you do it.”
The general manager of RIMCO told officers that the company had done business with Benton County and Brown for years, the affidavit said. Steven McAfee said it was “up to Jack Brown” whether RIMCO paid with cash or by check for scrap metal and did not think anything was suspicious when the company paid cash, the affidavit said.
Brown told officers he knew it was wrong to deliver the cash envelopes to Stober and said he never knew how much cash was involved, the affidavit said. Brown told officers he never used or took any of the money from the envelopes, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said officers believe scrap metal, worth several thousand dollars, was bought by RIMCO with cash during the previous few months.
In an Aug. 5 interview with a detective from the Sheriff’s Office, Brown said he was “tied to a lot of [expletive],” but he did them because his job was at stake if he did not. Brown told the detectives Stober would sometimes go with Brown to RIMCO when Brown stalled getting cash from the company, and Brown claimed Stober threatened to fire him if he did not get the money, the affidavit said.
In another interview, Brown told officers he signed for tires that he picked up for Stober because he thought the tires were for Stober’s county vehicle. The affidavit said the tires were used for Stober’s personal truck.
Brown told officers that in July 2013, Stober told him to place a special order for cedar lumber and Brown placed an order for a little more than $1,000 on July 10, the affidavit said. Brown said he assumed the lumber order was not for Benton County use but placed the order anyway, and the lumber was to be used on Stober’s deck at his residence, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said the lumber was never picked up because Stober was arrested before it was delivered. Brown told officers that walnut trees cut down during road work were sold in Missouri and the money was sent to Stober, the affidavit said.
Brown told officers he took the walnut logs to Missouri because Stober told him he did not want the material sold locally, the affidavit said. Brown said the logs were worth between $900-1,400 and he gave a piece of paper to the mill workers in Missouri with the name and address where to send the money, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said Brown remembered the name was “Tim” and the address was in Bella Vista, and officers said Stober’s father’s name is Tim Norris and lives in Bella Vista.
The affidavit said Brown claimed Stober encouraged him to buy tires for Brown’s son’s truck with county funds, and Brown said he did so on April 17, 2013. Brown said the tires were delivered to his residence but he never placed them on his son’s truck, the affidavit said.
The affidavit said Brown originally told officers he took the tires immediately to a county road facility in Decatur but admitted in a later interview he kept the tires at his home until he learned on July 29 that two other road department officials were going to talk to Judge Clinard about Stober’s actions. Brown told officers he took the tires – a receipt billed to Benton County showed they cost $2,266.46 – to Decatur because he feared illegal actions would be revealed, the affidavit said.
Brown said that he, McCracken and road department fleet supervisor Drew McConnell had met at Springdale restaurant on July 24 to agree that they could not take Stober’s activities anymore. McCracken and McConnell met with Clinard on July 29, the meeting that caused Brown to take the tires to Decatur, the affidavit said.
Brown told officers that Stober told McCracken to take a scraper, which is a heavy road machine, from Decatur to RIMCO to be scraped on or around July 18, but McCracken refused, the affidavit said. Stober then told another employee to do it and that employee, Kendall Gregory, contacted McConnell to request assistance in delivering the machine to RIMCO, the affidavit said.
McConnell became suspicious why the head administrator would order a low-level employee to scrap a major piece of equipment that was under McConnell’s control as fleet supervisor, the affidavit said. This was one piece of suspicious activity that was among the complaints McConnell took to Clinard, who contacted the Sheriff’s Office and started the subsequent investigation, the affidavit said.
Brown had told officers in one interview that he had refrained from complaining to Clinard about Stober’s activities was partially because Stober was “very tight” with Clinard, the affidavit said. Brown said he wished he had contacted the Sheriff’s Office, the affidavit said.
Brown also told officers he had three road department workers plant 500 trees on his property and seed an acre of his land and also had a concrete pad made from county material by county workers, the affidavit said. Stober was accused to using county funds to pay a Missouri company to paint his residence, and the affidavit said Stober learned of the Missouri company because the owner’s girlfriend was Brown’s girlfriend’s sister.
Brown said he gave a check to his girlfriend to mail to the Missouri company and his girlfriend asked why a county check was being mailed to her relatives, the affidavit said. The invoice for the work said it was for “sand blasting” and “painting bridge forms” for the Benton County Road Department but Leon White, the owner of the company that did the work, said he left those spaces blank on the invoice and the work was for painting a residence that he is sure was Stober’s, the affidavit said.
McCracken is the construction superintendent for the Benton County Road Department and it was his and McConnell’s complaints to Clinard that led to the subsequent investigation. The probable cause affidavit for McCracken’s misdemeanor arrest said the two men told Clinard they believed Stober was using county funds for personal business and gave the judge several questionable invoices.
McCracken told officers in a July 30 interview he placed an order for lumber on Stober’s directions and picked up the material in Stober’s truck, the affidavit said. McCracken said Stober told him to give a false job site for the order’s billing of $843, and McCracken helped Stober build a deck on his residence with the material he delivered, the affidavit said.
McCracken told officers he was sure Stober would not pay the county back for the purchase and told Stober later he would not have anything more to do with Stober’s activities. The affidavit quotes McCracken as saying, “I’m not losing my job over anything your [sic] going to do here at the county.”
McCracken told officers he and McConnell went to the lumber company on July 29 to pick up the falsified invoice regarding the purchase to give to Clinard.
The affidavit said McCracken worked for Stober before they were employed by the road department. In June 2013, Stober’s father-in-law filed a theft complaint against Stober because some items of his had gone missing from a storage building that belonged to Stober and his wife, the affidavit said.
At approximately the same time frame, McCracken said Stober asked him to move some items from his storage unit to another storage unit in Bella Vista, the affidavit said. Stober made it clear to McCracken he was trying to hide property from his wife, with whom he was in the middle of divorce proceedings, and McCracken agreed to help, the affidavit said.
Stober had not rented the next storage unit so McCracken asked if he wanted to have McCracken rent it in his name and Stober said, “you read my mind,” the affidavit said. The items McCracken told officers he helped move matched the descriptions of the items Stober’s father-in-law reported missing, the affidavit said.
The items were recovered from the storage unit rented in McCracken’s name when officers executed a search warrant and were valued at more than $18,000 by the father-in-law, the affidavit said.
“It’s very disheartening when you find that you’ve got one part of your supervision that’s not handling things correctly,” said Judge Bob Clinard with Benton County.
However despite the allegations, Judge Clinard wants to reassure the people of Benton County they will move forward from this.
“We’ve got a bunch of good people in the road department,” Clinard said. “It’s not everybody out there… We’ll reload and we’ll be as good or better than we ever were.”