Wednesday, May 22, 2013
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Former Dallas city manager Jerry Wyatt (left) is taken into custody after a hearing on Jan. 30.
February 05, 2013
DALLAS -- Tom Simpson, Dallas' deputy chief of police, answered a phone call on the evening of June 15, 2012.
It was Cecilia Ward, the city's finance director, asking if she could meet with him to talk about a work-related matter.
"This has been eating me up inside all day and I have to talk to someone about it," she said, according to Simpson's summary of the investigation into former Dallas city manager Jerry Wyatt's use of the city's credit card.
Reports summarizing the investigation released last week revealed what was eating at her: two credit card expenses Wyatt had turned in for supposed training in Chicago.
On the expense paperwork he turned in for airfare in May, it appeared he booked a ticket for himself on the city's credit card for $1,648. But on the corresponding city Visa bill, it listed three tickets, one for himself and two others. In fact, it looked like the other two names were purposely removed from expense paperwork. What's more, he didn't include registration confirmation for the conference, which he claimed was the International City/County Management Association's Senior Executive Institute (SEI) leadership training.
That didn't sit well with finance employees. They researched and discovered something worse -- no SEI training was happening in Chicago or anywhere else on the dates of Wyatt's trip June 13-18.
Wyatt had also submitted a payment form for lodging for himself during the "conference" -- suspiciously in a two-bedroom suite, for $1,884.
Pulling together collective knowledge, finance employees surmised the trip was actually to visit Wyatt's son, who was attending school in Chicago.
They were correct. Wyatt's wife and future daughter-in-law were in tow. Another couple met them in Chicago and stayed a few nights in the suite.
Ward indicated to Simpson that wasn't the first questionable transaction, but the one that led her to report her suspicions.
In the coming weeks, Simpson would find 41 he believed were thefts between September 2009 and June 2012.
He also found evidence that not only had Wyatt purchased items for himself or others on the city's dime, but he altered documents and submitted misleading credit card slips to evade detection.
When initially confronted by Simpson and John Teague, the city's police chief, Wyatt offered an explanation for the trip. He meant to use his own credit card to pay for his wife and future daughter-in-law, he said, but put it all on the city's credit card by mistake.
He said he would reimburse the city for all but his costs. He maintained during the interview that he was there for training. On further investigation, police found Wyatt hadn't been accepted to the program he claimed the trip was for.
Teague and Simpson mentioned several other questionable purchases during the interview. Wyatt fully acknowledged just one: a cellphone with a pink case for his wife. He admitted he had no intention of reimbursing the city.
"I need to fix that," he said.
Wyatt would, but not until after he resigned his position and was charged with 36 illegal purchases with city money -- amounting to more than $14,000, according to the Oregon Department of Justice, which handled the prosecution. On Jan. 30, Wyatt pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree theft, official misconduct and falsifying business records.
The case is fraught with irony, said Dallas Mayor Brian Dalton. Hired as city manager in 2007, Wyatt was a hands-off boss, not a micromanager.
"He believed in having faith in the people who worked for him," Dalton said. "He trusted his own people and that was one of the things that made him so likable and respected."
He also enjoyed his job, had no addiction to substances or gambling, and made a healthy salary, about $123,000 a year. To Circuit Court Judge Sally Avera, those traits, combined with his repeated theft, characterize him as a "prototypical embezzler."
Avera sentenced Wyatt on Jan. 30 to two years in prison for his crimes. He also was ordered to issue an official apology letter to the city of Dallas. In it he said he repaid the city $11,847.91, also part of his plea deal, and returned all merchandise in question.
Wyatt has taken responsibility for his actions -- all of them as charged -- and explained they were the result of blurring the lines between personal and professional life and faulty decision making.
That explanation wasn't enough for Avera. She said during Wyatt's change of plea hearing Jan. 30 that many people who still support him may not see his actions as criminal because no one was physically hurt.
"But it is a crime," she said. "I don't see it as a blurring of public and private life."
She said his actions were deceptive, premeditated and intentional, reflecting a "corrosion of moral constraints."
She asked Wyatt directly what many have been wondering: "Why did you spend the city's money like it was your own?"
To that question, Wyatt didn't have an answer.
In spite of that, Dalton said he thought the plea was an appropriate conclusion to what has led to "tears and sleepless nights for many of us" in city government.
"I think it helps bring closure and is a vital step in the healing process," Dalton said.