Why no charges?

Published:

We have a little trouble understanding the terminus of City Hall’s inquiry into possible misconduct by former Transit Superintendent Betty Burriss. The investigative report, obtained through an open-records request by State Journal reporter Ryan Quinn, pretty clearly accuses the 20-year employee of stealing city property and using her official credit card for personal purchases. And yet, it calls for no criminal charges.

“This should be the end of this,” said interim City Manager Walter Wilhoite, who also serves as police chief. Although Burriss denied wrongdoing, she did return the items missing from her department and forfeited more than $5,000 in accrued leave. (Government workers accumulate unused rights to sick and other leave over their careers.)

We wonder if Chief Wilhoite would agree to such lenient terms for the common criminals his officers investigate and arrest every day. Who would not, presented with evidence of illegal behavior, be willing to return the loot and let bygones be bygones, especially if the victim is willing? Pennsylvania State University and the Catholic Church managed for years to keep probes of child sex abuse “in house” rather than subject themselves to the indignity of court proceedings. No public institution likes to have its dirty linen aired in public.

Even though the pilfering of municipal property does not rise to the magnitude of child molestation, city leaders should treat it just as seriously as the theft of a car stereo.

Investigators routinely looking into home and business burglaries would be fortunate to find evidence as damning as they turned up in this affair. After employees tipped off police that Burriss may have abused her authority as transit superintendent, a review of the department’s surveillance video showed a pickup truck, believed to be Burriss’ own, pulling away with a loaded trailer. A transit employee handled the loading, under her orders, and won’t face charges.

Police subsequently visited Burriss’ home on Mount Zion Road and asked about the missing property. The investigative report says she initially denied possession of furniture from the Transit Department’s training/break area. Items taken, according to the report, were a glass table, four chairs, a loveseat, a recliner, a utility trailer and generator. Wilhoite said she also took a 42-inch flat-screen TV belonging to the city, which had been declared surplus. Her husband later took it to the police station.

Police decided they should look into purchases the superintendent made on her city credit card in 2011-2012. Some that raised questions included gift wrap, a Yankee Candle item, women’s clothing, a child’s cup, baby snacks, sunglasses, shoes and cookies.

Wilhoite said the transit superintendent’s misappropriation of public property appeared to deviate from 20 years of loyal service. He called it a mistake in judgment.

How many theft suspects might offer the same defense – that bad choices led them to take someone else’s valuables? How many would gladly return what they took in exchange for maintaining a clean record and avoiding the stigma of going to court as a criminal defendant? How many have had to face the music, anyway?

If anything, public servants should be held to a higher standard than the “usual suspects” of criminal investigations. Unless investigators came to the conclusion they had too little evidence to win a conviction, they should have handled this matter like any crime and let the justice system reach its own conclusions. It’s the right thing to do.

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  • I've been told that our State Auditors Office does not audit cities, only Countys and there subdivisions. I've called twice but have not had them returned. So I have no way to verify Seems with cities and there much larger budgets and staffing, the Auditor would be all over this.

  • I didn't want to post on this anymore but to SleazyCorruption, I'm shocked also at the non-backlash from the usual posters. Have we gotten to the point where everybody are just too fed up or just doesn't care about corruption in our local government. Who all investigated this & are they related somehow. Does this runs deeper across all the local departments. Wilhoite (above all persons) investigated this & came to the conclusion (after all the lying) that it was just A MISTAKE! H*ll, even Burris is still denying that she took anything, even though she had the properties in her house. I too, think that the State Police should get involved with this & appropriate charges filed because we have the best coverup in local government going on right now. Everybody involved from the theif to the investigators are friends & as can be expected, they came to the conclusion that this is nothing more than a mis-understanding.

  • I can't believe there is not an uproar from the public about this Burriss issue. I read today in the SJ about a young man with Burglary tools at a car wash. I wonder if he offers to replace or repair the coin change machine, will he will be given the "Burris Exception" Will he get off scot free? How charges cannot be brought forth when the person admits to the thievery makes no sense, NONE! How can the City Commissioners and Mayor sign off on this? The acting City Manager has. This is a black eye and double black stain on Frankfort City Government and our elected officials. This would never happen if this was a garbage truck driver, a mechanic, or the office secretary. This is worse corruption than anything Kathy Carter and Tony Massey ever did. If you steal, you at least initially go to jail and minimally get put on probation. I wonder if the state police can make an arrest because city government is not willing (for whatever reason) to press charges?

  • bodeen, I KNOW that this case did not involve pain meds. I am just saying that "this is very typical of Frankfort" to not pursue this type of case, while throwing the book at any case that involves drugs of any kind. Get it?

  • anonymous_1713, Pain meds have nothing to do with this. Somebody was fired a few years ago for selling pain meds there but this whole story involves years of stealing OUR property that we are taxed to pay for. If anybody has been paying attention, they would see that the closer it came to retirement, the more that was taken. I mean we are talking about FELONY thefts done in broad daylight & nobody is going to do anything about it. All they(she) have to do is Give back what they found & let by gones be bygones. They think that it is enough punishment for her to give us OUR property back. I'm not going to beat this to death any longer but that statement by Cheif/Manager Wilhoite that she only made a MISTAKE OF JUDGEMENT, was about as plain as it gets with how our leaders really are & how STUPID they think we are.

  • Makes you wonder if all the investigating of Richie Farmer was overkill, or if, as stated, this is "underkill."

  • Burriss wasn't selling her own pain meds, so what is the problem?

  • This is very typical of Frankfort. I thought that with all of the newer faces that these type of coverups/favors were over with. Somebody needs to answer/pay the price for this. This was not mistake in judgement at all, it was years of outright theft by a career criminal that just happens to be friends with those blind people at city hall or more than likely she knows dirt on all of them & everybody wants to sweep it under the rug & let it die. This was our stuff that Burris was stealing. This was OUR money that she was charging to our card. She needs to pay & so does city hall for not doing their jobs looking out for the taxpayer & instead, looking out for eachother. They need to answer for this also & I would hope that voters make them!