Criminal charges possible in alleged theft of city property

Former transit head’s resignation, return of goods not enough for commissioners

By Ryan Quinn Published:

Criminal prosecution of former Transit Superintendent Betty Burriss, who allegedly stole city property and made personal purchases on a city credit card, may proceed despite earlier suggestions otherwise.

While a report emailed to City Commissioners on Sept. 21 accused Burriss of stealing items such as a Yamaha power generator and a brown loveseat from the city’s surplus inventory, it did not suggest pursuing criminal charges.

Burriss’ resignation, return of the allegedly stolen property and forfeiture of more than $5,000 in accrued leave was deemed punishment enough.

In addition, Interim City Manager Walter Wilhoite, who compiled the report, told The State Journal Sept. 29 that “This should be the end of this.”

However, the City Commission brought up the investigation during Monday night’s work session, and Wilhoite agreed to present the evidence from Frankfort’s police investigation of Burriss to Commonwealth’s Attorney Larry Cleveland.

Cleveland’s office will decide whether to push forward based on the whether they can make a case against Burriss. Evidence in the report, including 21 pages of receipts with suspicious purchases and at least nine stolen items found in Burriss’ home – was called “cut-and-dried” by City Commissioner Sellus Wilder, who brought up the issue Monday.

Wilder said that in a closed session discussion of the investigation, the Commission had agreed to turn the evidence over. Wilder said there may have been a miscommunication, adding that not turning over the evidence was “directly contradictory” to the Commission’s wishes.

“[The Commission] came to the conclusion that we shouldn’t pressure the prosecutors one way or the other; we should just trust them to do the jobs and turn the evidence over, communicate that we trust their judgment, because to my understanding, that’s the way we handle most criminal activity that our police department uncovers,” Wilder said.

He said not moving forward may send the message that an employee can get away with stealing from the city more than a common criminal.

Commissioner Michael Turner said the city needs to do its “due diligence” by turning the evidence over and protecting taxpayers’ money. Commissioner Katie Hedden told The State Journal last week that she was upset about the possibility that Burriss wouldn’t be prosecuted.

“I have a full-time job as well – if I was stealing from the hospital, then yeah, they’d probably press charges against me,” Hedden said.

Commissioner Bill May, the only incumbent not seeking re-election because he is running for mayor, was silent. So, too, was Mayor Gippy Graham.

Wilder said he was “pretty disappointed” to see that local prosecutors had chosen not to pursue charges. He said that Cleveland told him he had been given the impression that city officers didn’t want him to press charges. Cleveland was not available for comment before press time.

Wilhoite subsequently agreed to turn over the evidence.

Burriss forwarded all questions to her attorney Annie O’Connell Monday night. O’Connell, who earlier said that Burriss “adamantly denies these allegations,” could not be reached.

In other action Monday:

>A meeting seeking public input on Walk/Bike Frankfort’s proposal to add bike lanes to Louisville Road hill – thus reducing it from three vehicle lanes to two – was set for 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 15.

>Wilhoite said an audit of city street lights revealed “that our electric bill will probably go up $25,000 next year.”

>Public Works Director Jeff Hackbart said the city would be opening the bidding process on Oct. 16 to find a contractor to tear down East Frankfort Pool.

>Hackbart also said the city was searching for a piece of property to dump excess materials – such as concrete, rock and brick – since it is no longer using Carpenter Farm.

>A new city website is set to launch Wednesday. It will allow the public to make comments and city employees to blog.

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