A former Sullivan County, Tennessee, utility district manager has been charged after authorities say she embezzled nearly $300,000 in district funds.
Tina L. Grindstaff, 50, is facing one robbery leader over $250,000, one robbery leader over $60,000 and two robbery leaders over $2,500. She was director of the Bristol-Bluff City Utility District from August 5, 2008 to June 6, 2019.
After Grindstaff’s resignation, the Utility District, with assistance from the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, reviewed the finances and identified irregularities, according to a district statement. The district contacted the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office to conduct a thorough investigation, which led to charges against the former manager.
Comptroller investigators found that Grindstaff misappropriated at least $294,810 of district funds, according to a state news release. Grindstaff paid himself unauthorized compensation, including payments for overtime, vacation, vacation and bonuses, the statement said.
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Investigators also said she paid employee bonuses totaling at least $24,025 that were not approved by commissioners and not reflected on employees’ annual W-2 forms, the statement said. Grindstaff is also accused of directing questionable payments and providing life insurance to her father, which amounted to at least $132,907, and about $24,200 to her aunt, the statement said.
The Comptroller’s report says Grindstaff made $13,897 in questionable purchases and withdrawals. The report says she paid for shoes, watches, boat repairs, pool equipment, vet bills including euthanasia and cremation, a karaoke machine and tan bulbs. Investigators were unable to determine whether the disbursements benefited the district, the statement said.
Investigators took the case to a grand jury on July 28. Grindstaff, who appears to have no criminal history, was arrested Thursday afternoon and released on $20,000 bail. It is not known whether she has hired a lawyer.
“There are a number of operations that need to be strengthened in this utility district,” said state comptroller Jason Mumpower, from Bristol. “These include adopting specific personnel policies on remuneration, maintaining an up-to-date equipment inventory list and acquiring a reliable accounting system to ensure the accuracy of financial statements. I am pleased to see that the Commissioners are taking steps to address these issues.
Upon Grindstaff’s departure, the district hired Tim Ham to serve as its new manager. He finalized three years of financial records for the district and identified and resolved several accounting issues, the district said in its statement.
Ham also identified deficiencies in the water system and worked with the council and its attorney to implement new policies and procedures and establish new standards for best practice, according to the release.
Under Ham and the board’s leadership, the district added about 1,000 new customers to its service base, according to the district, which now serves about 7,500 families and businesses in southern Sullivan County.