2 employees of town near planned Ford truck plant indicted
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Two employees of a rural Tennessee town that resisted a takeover attempt by the state after Ford Motor Co. announced plans to build an electric truck plant nearby have been charged with the theft of town funds and official misconduct, officials said Wednesday.
Reva Marshall, the former finance officer for the town of Mason, and Michele Scott, Mason’s human resources manager, have been indicted by grand juries in two counties, the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said in a news release and an investigative report.
Both Marshall and Scott were charged with receiving tens of thousands of dollars in improper wages, benefits and reimbursements from Mason by submitting timesheets for many more hours than they actually worked, officials said. They also worked full-time for the Memphis-Shelby County Schools system while also employed by Mason, receiving compensation from both entities for the same hours of work, officials said.
In a report released Wednesday, investigators also questioned tens of thousands of dollars in credit card transactions and reimbursements by town employees.
Marshall and Scott were indicted in west Tennessee’s Tipton County, where Mason is located, and in Shelby County, which includes Memphis. Online court records did not show if they had lawyers to speak on their behalf about the charges.
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Mason’s mayor did not immediately respond to a phone call and email seeking comment.
The allegations are the latest in a string of financial problems that have beset Mason, located about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Memphis. The state comptroller’s office said the town has experienced 20 years of financial mismanagement.
The 2020 Census shows Mason’s population at about 1,330. But that fell to less than 800 after a private prison closed.
The town’s current leadership is mostly Black, but white leaders were in charge for many of the years that the state said Mason’s affairs were mismanaged. The town has seen investigations into misconduct and accounting irregularities, including one by the comptroller’s office cited in a report in 2016, when its leaders were mostly white. Several officials resigned.
Last year, Tennessee Comptroller Jason Mumpower asked Mason’s town leaders to surrender their charter, pointing to the financial mismanagement. After Mason voters refused to do so, Mumpower later said the state would take over its financial supervision.
The news of the takeover attempt sparked national attention as many questioned its timing because Mason is near the site of a future $5.6 billion Ford electric pickup truck factory. The plant is expected to employ about 5,600 workers at the plant, and construction will create thousands more jobs.
Town leaders filed a lawsuit — with the help of the NAACP — hoping to stop a full takeover of its finances. Mason and the state later struck a deal for a scaled-back supervision of the town’s finances.
“The Comptroller’s Office continues to have enhanced supervision over the Town of Mason’s fiscal condition,” the news release said. “This includes ensuring the town maintains a balanced budget; requiring the town to provide monthly financial records and reports to the Comptroller’s Office; and requiring implementation of policies to address audit findings.”
Construction has begun for the planned Ford factory in neighboring Haywood County. Officials say the plant, called BlueOval City, will boost west Tennessee’s economy. The factory is expected to bring both small and large businesses to the area, including hotels, restaurants, health care facilities and suppliers for the plant, among others. Real estate values also could increase.
Ford has said it has not been directly involved with Mason’s financial situation, but it has reached out to state and local community leaders about it.